This book examines how contemporary artists have engaged with histories of nature, geology, and extinction within the co
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In the era of the Anthropocene, artists and scientists are facing a new paradigm in their attempts to represent nature.
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A esthetics and Nature offers a clear and accessible introduction to the field of nature aesthetics. Glenn Parsons explo
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This book sets forth a new research agenda for climate theory and aesthetics for the age of the Anthropocene. It explore
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The Modernist Anthropocene examines how modernist writers forged new and innovative ways of responding to rapidly changi
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Table of contents :
Table of contents
Once upon a time
1 In the Holocene
2 Landscapes of the Anthropocene
3 New Taxonomies
5 Moving Beyond Geology
Art and Nature in the Anthropocene
This book examines how contemporary artists have engaged with histories of nature, geology, and extinction within the context of the changing planet. Susan Ballard describes how artists challenge the categories of animal, mineral, and vegetable— turning to a multispecies order of relations that opens up a new vision of what it means to live within the Anthropocene. Considering the work of a broad range of artists including Francisco de Goya, J. M. W. Turner, Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Yhonnie Scarce, Joyce Campbell, Lisa Reihana, Katie Paterson, Taryn Simon, Susan Norrie, Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, Ken + Julia Yonetani, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Angela Tiatia, and Hito Steyerl and with a particular focus on artists from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, this book reveals the emergence of a planetary aesthetics that challenges fixed concepts of nature in the Anthropocene. The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, visual culture, narrative nonfiction, digital and media art, and the environmental humanities. Susan Ballard is an Associate Professor of Art History at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand.
Routledge Advances in Art and Visual Studies
This series is our home for innovative research in the fields of art and visual studies. It includes monographs and targeted edited collections that provide new insights into visual culture and art practice, theory, and research. The Outsider, Art and Humour Paul Clements The Contemporary Art Scene in Syria Social Critique and an Artistic Movement Charlotte Bank The Iconology of Abstraction Non-Figurative Images and the Modern World Edited by Krešimir Purgar Liquid Ecologies in Latin American and Caribbean Art Edited by Lisa Blackmore and Liliana Gómez Contemporary Art, Photography, and the Politics of Citizenship Vered Maimon Contemporary Art and Capitalist Modernization A Transregional Perspective Edited by Octavian Esanu Art and Merchandise in Keith Haring’s Pop Shop Amy Raffel Art and Nature in the Anthropocene Planetary Aesthetics Susan Ballard For a full list of titles in this series, please visit www.routledge.com/Routledge- Advances-in-Art-and-Visual-Studies/book-series/RAVS
Art and Nature in the Anthropocene Planetary Aesthetics Susan Ballard
First published 2021 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Taylor & Francis The right of Susan Ballard to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Cover image: Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017). Detail. Ultra HD video, colour, 7.1 sound, 64 minutes. © Lisa Reihana and Artprojects. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, New Zealand at Venice, Creative New Zealand, NZ at Venice Patrons and Partners and Artprojects. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ballard, Susan, 1969– author. Title: Art and nature in the anthropocene: planetary aesthetics / Susan Ballard. Description: New York: Routledge, 2021. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020042073 (print) | LCCN 2020042074 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367349394 (hardback) | ISBN 9780429328862 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Nature in art. | Geology in art. | Nature (Aesthetics) | Art, Modern–21st century–Themes, motives. Classification: LCC N7650 .B35 2021 (print) | LCC N7650 (ebook) | DDC 704.9/43–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020042073 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020042074 ISBN: 978-0-367-34939-4 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-32886-2 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Newgen Publishing UK
List of Figures Acknowledgements
1 In the Holocene
2 Landscapes of the Anthropocene
3 New Taxonomies
Once upon a time 1 Planetary Aesthetics 7
Rain 13 Steam 23 Speed 29
Water 43 Earth 53 Air 59
Animal 71 Vegetable 82 Mineral 93
5 Moving Beyond Geology
Storm 107 Fold 116 Fallout 125
Ecologies 139 Energy 145 Planet 155
I.1 Angela Tiatia, Holding On (2015). Single-channel high definition video, 16:9, colour, sound, 12:11 minutes. Dimensions variable. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf in Sydney, Australia 1.1 Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Duel with Cudgels, or Fight to the Death with Clubs (1820–1823). Mixed method on mural transferred to canvas, 125 cm × 261 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid 1.2 Eugene von Guérard, Milford Sound, New Zealand (1877–1879). Oil on canvas, 99.2 × 176 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Reproduced with permission 1.3 Joyce Campbell, Sometimes I Think She Shows Herself, from the series Te Taniwha (2010). Becquerel daguerreotype, 10.8 cm × 17.8 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the artist 1.4 Joyce Campbell, Castor, from the series Crown Coach Botanical (2008). Gelatin Silver Fibre-based Print (from Ambrotype), 85 × 64 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Two Rooms 1.5 Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed—The Great Western Railway (1844). Oil on canvas, 91 × 121.8cm. © The National Gallery, London, Turner Bequest, 1856. Reproduced with permission 1.6 Angelica Kauffman, Colour (1778–1780). Oil on canvas, 126 × 148.5 cm. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Reproduced with permission 1.7 Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison (2015). 2000 blown glass yams, stainless steel, and reinforced wire, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photograph by Janelle Low. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY 1.8 Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison (2015). Detail. 2000 blown glass yams, stainless steel, and reinforced wire, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photograph by Janelle Low. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY 2.1 Jean-Gabriel Charvet and Joseph Dufour, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The native peoples of the Pacific Ocean) (1804–1805). Mâcon. Purchased 2015 with Charles Disney Art Trust funds.
2 14 19 20 22
2.7 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (2015-0048-1). Reproduced with permission Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017). Installation view, Ultra HD video, colour, 7.1 sound, 64 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, New Zealand at Venice, Creative New Zealand, NZ at Venice Patrons and Partners and Artprojects Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017). Detail. Ultra HD video, colour, 7.1 sound, 64 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, New Zealand at Venice, Creative New Zealand, NZ at Venice Patrons and Partners and Artprojects Newell Harry, Untitled (Anagrams and Objects for R.U. & R.U. (Part 1) (2015). Hand-beaten Tongan ngatu, ink 7 parts, each 310 × 100 cm. Installation view Tidalectics, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2017. Photograph by Jorit Aust © 2017. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Katie Paterson, Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) (2007). Disklavier Grand Piano, digital sound file, Earth–Moon–Earth book, headsets. Installation view, Cornerhouse, Manchester, 2011. Photograph © We Are Tape. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Katie Paterson, Future Library (2014–2114). Future Library is commissioned and produced by Bjørvika Utvikling, and managed by the Future Library Trust. Supported by the City of Oslo, Agency for Cultural Affairs and Agency for Urban Environment. Photograph © Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Mitchell Whitelaw, Weather Bracelet (2009). 3D printed dataform. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Bill Hammond, The Fall of Icarus (after Bruegel) (1995). Acrylic on canvas, 200 × 216 cm, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 1996. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Bill Hammond, Buller’s Table Cloth (1994). Acrylic on canvas, 168 × 167 cm, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Hayden Fowler, Call of the Wild i (2007). Mounted chromogenic photograph, dimensions variable, performance documentation. Photograph Sarah Smuts-Kennedy. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Hayden Fowler, New World Order (production still ii) (2013). Colour pigment print on cotton rag art paper, 54 × 75 cm, unique edition. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Hayden Fowler, Anthropocene (2011). Mixed-media installation, 5 × 6.5 × 6.5 metres. Photograph by Joy Lai. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Stella Brennan, The Middle Landscape (2009). Mixed-media installation, Photograph by Sam Harnett. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Trish Clark Gallery, Auckland Taryn Simon, Agreement between Switzerland and the United States of America for Cooperation to Facilitate the Implementation of FATCA.
62 64 74 76 78 79 80 81
3.9 3.10 3.11
4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5
Bern, Switzerland, February 14, 2013, Press III, Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015). Bird’s-eye view. Pigmented concrete press, dried plant specimens, archival inkjet prints, text on herbarium paper, and steel brace, 114.1 × 55.9 × 76.2 cm. © Taryn Simon, reproduced courtesy Gagosian Taryn Simon, Central North Island Forests Land Collective Settlement Act 2008 (Treelords). Beehive Banquet Hall, Wellington, New Zealand, June 25, 2008, Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015). Archival inkjet print and text on archival herbarium paper in mahogany frame, 215.9 × 186.1 × 70 cm. Edition of 3 + 2APs © Taryn Simon, reproduced courtesy Gagosian Dane Mitchell, Post hoc (2019). Palazzina Canonica, New Zealand Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Dane Mitchell, Post hoc (2019). Palazzina Canonica, New Zealand Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Mikala Dwyer, The Garden of Half-life (2014). Installation view. University of Sydney Art Gallery (15 September 2014–17 January 2015). Photograph by Alejandra Canales. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Mikala Dwyer, An Apparition of a Subtraction (2010). Installation view. 17th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2010. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Mikala Dwyer, An Apparition of a Subtraction (2010). Installation view. 17th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2010. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Mikala Dwyer, The Hollows (2014). Installation view. 19th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2014. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney Susan Norrie, Undertow (2002). Six-channel digital video installation, colour, sound, projection boxes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Susan Norrie, HAVOC (2006–2007). Still from 16-channel video installation in three rooms, Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Susan Norrie, Aftermath (2016). Still from single-channel digital video, Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist Susan Norrie, Transit (2011). Single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 14:35 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist et al. Rapture (2004). Telecom Prospect 2004 City Gallery Wellington in partnership with the Adam Art Gallery, New Zealand Film Archive and Massey University. Curated by Emma Bugden City Gallery, Wellington May–August 2004. Reproduced courtesy of the artists
87 90 91
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Figures ix et al., the fundamental practice for the New Zealand pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2005, (2005). Santa Maria della Pietà, Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, Italy, 12 June–6 November 2005. Photograph by Jennifer French. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 4.7 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012). 13:35 minutes, HD Film installation with sound, Installation view at documenta-Halle. Kassel, Germany. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 4.8 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying (2015). Installation, Venice Biennale, Korean Pavilion, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 4.9 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying (2015). Installation, Venice Biennale, Korean Pavilion, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 4.10 Don’t Follow the Wind, A Walk in Fukushima (2016). 360-degree video, headsets, cafe furniture from Fukushima, Australian uranium, maps, installation commissioned by the 20th Biennale of Sydney, 20th Biennale of Sydney, Carriageworks, 18 March 2016–5 June 2016. Reproduced courtesy of Don’t Follow the Wind 4.11 Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube (2020). Irradiated glass from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite. 20 × 20 × 20 cm. Installation view. Don’t Follow the Wind, Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Japan, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York 4.12 Ken + Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013). Uranium glass, antique chandelier frames and electrical components, UV lights. Dimensions variable (31 pieces). Reproduced courtesy of the artists 4.13 Ken + Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013). Detail. Uranium glass, antique chandelier frames and electrical components, UV lights. Dimensions variable (31 pieces). Reproduced courtesy of the artists 5.1 Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie (2007). Single-channel HD video, 4:47 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 5.2 Semiconductor, Earthworks (2016). Five-channel computer generated animation with four channel surround sound. Reproduced courtesy of the artists 5.3 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Purple Rain (2004). Television antennas and receivers, computer, custom electronics, single-channel video projection, audio gate, mixing desk, 4 × television monitors, colour, live, and pre-recorded material. Installation view, Artspace Sydney 2005. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy of the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney 5.4 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Earth Star (2008). HD video projection, live sound from custom VLF antennas, graphite, and polyethylene-coated copper wire, audio filters, mixing desk, powered stereo speakers, 2 × ozone fragrances, Peltier refrigeration units, glass containers with paper smelling strips. Installation view, 4.6
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Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū 2017. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Earth Star (2008). HD video projection, live sound from custom VLF antennas, graphite, and polyethylene-coated copper wire, audio filters, mixing desk, powered stereo speakers, 2 × ozone fragrances, Peltier refrigeration units, glass containers with paper smelling strips. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 2017. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Geology (2015). Real-time 3D environment, 2 × HD projections, game engine, motion sensor, spatial 3D audio. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, supported by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Photograph by Christopher Snee. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Geology (2015). Real-time 3D environment, 2 × HD projections, game engine, motion sensor, spatial 3D audio. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, supported by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun (2015). Installation view, Venice Biennale, single-channel HD video, environment. Photograph by Manuel Reinartz. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, and Esther Schipper, Berlin Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl and Helmuth Trischler, Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands, (2014–2016). Deutsches Museum and The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich. Installation view. All rights reserved. Reproduced courtesy of the Deutsches Museum, Munich
To acknowledge all those who have helped in the writing of this book is to acknowledge the planet in all its strangeness. To acknowledge Australia, the living breathing Country that cared for me while I worked. To acknowledge Aotearoa New Zealand, the country to which I have returned, and its bush-clad islands formed from the geological upheavals of the earth, and upon which the realities of climate change play out every day. To acknowledge every one, human and more-than, exceeds even this trans-Tasman bubble. This acknowledgement stretches back in time, through many journeys, many communities, and forwards in space criss- crossing Moana Oceania, the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, when this book started I was writing with the ADA Network in Christchurch as we all tried to process the seismic world that had shattered our everyday. And then in Wollongong, I worked with many more. Joshua Lobb, Catherine McKinnon, Eva Hampel, Louise Boscacci, Kim Williams, Anne Collett, Lucas Ihlein, Jade Kennedy, Ted Mitew, Agnieszka Golda, David Carlin, Jo Law, and Jo Stirling: the MECO network! Over four years, a new atmospheric text emerged from whispers and portents, and a bend in the river. MECO: your watery ethics of care transformed everything I know. Thank you. There are so many others. Your real and imagined readerly voices are critical to how I write. I thank everyone who has shaped these words and thoughts, valued the movement of ideas over the possession of them, and believed that together we had something to say about the challenges of living upon this transforming planet. Whether or not they knew so, in conversation and text, Bridie Lonie, Zita Joyce, Christine Eriksen, Liz Linden, Stella Brennan, Tim Corballis, Tina Barton, Rebecca Rice, Pam McKinley, Chrissy Howe, Lucinda Strahan, Samantha Lang, Sandy Lockwood, Tess Barber, Adriana Lear, Jen Saunders, Michelle Voyer, Lone Bertelson, Andrew Murphie, Anna Munster, Mat Wall Smith, David Haines, Joyce Hinterding, David Cross, Cameron Bishop, Lizzie Muller, Harriet Hawkins, Douglas Kahn, Sean Cubitt, Noel Castree, Thom van Dooren, Jen Hamilton, Anna Pilz, and Kate Wright all encouraged me to write about ecologies and energies and suggested different ways to tell these stories of art and nature. I am grateful to you all for listening, reading, editing, and most especially, time. Writing with, alongside, and to you all, whose works, worlds, and words I respect, sustained this book. In particular, I wrote this book for the artists from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand whose works offered spaces for me to think: Angela Tiatia, Lisa Reihana, Joyce Campbell, Yhonnie Scarce, Newell Harry, Mitchell Whitelaw, Bill Hammond, Hayden Fowler, Stella Brennan, Dane Mitchell, Mikala Dwyer, Susan Norrie, et al.,
xii Acknowledgements Ken + Julia Yonetani, and David Haines and Joyce Hinterding. And the artists and curators whose works challenged me from afar: Katie Paterson, Taryn Simon, Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, Jason Waite, Trevor Paglen, Semiconductor, and Hito Steyerl. Thank you all for making works that continue to generate new ideas, and your generosity in allowing me to populate this book with your images. The majority of this book was written amidst appropriately turbulent times in the School of Arts, English and Media at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Thanks to Brogan Bunt, Sue Turnbull, and Leonie Clement, who opened up spaces for this project and enabled the generous support of research and Sabbatical, the funding of the MECO research network, the “Urgent Ecologies” symposium, the C3P research centre, and numerous writing residencies at Bundanon Trust’s Riversdale residence. The time spent with wombats, the river, and other more-than-human companions was critical to the work contained here. Two chapters were written in the sparkling energy of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich, morning writers group. And it has been finished amidst a time of global pandemic, a trans-Tasman move, mandatory isolation, and lock-down, and then the opening up of new windswept possibilities in Art History at Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington. Thank you to everyone for welcoming me so warmly, amidst such uncertainty. Enormous gratitude to the patient and kindly reassurance of Katie Armstrong, Isabella Vitti, Alanna Donaldson, and Kiruthiga Sowndararajan at Routledge Taylor and Francis, to Peter Blamey for his considered indexing, and to all the gallerists, librarians, curators, and museum professionals who worked with dedication and care to provide the images at a time when everything became a little more difficult than usual. I could not have finished this book without the wise encouragement of Buzz, the short-lived but incredibly astute engagement of Merlin, and Bootsy, who waited patiently under my desk and whose sudden loss pervades my everyday. Endless love to my partner, Nathan Thompson, who continues to offer kindly provocations, and make sure we are all suitably fed and watered. In September 2019, I went on my first School March for Climate. I stood in the background as my children, Moss Thompson and Charlotte Ballard, respectfully and passionately fought for their future. I shared the photos of that day with their grandparents, Keith and Pat Ballard, continuing a conversation across time and place. This book is dedicated to them, my family, and all those ginger cats.
Once upon a time Once upon a time. It sounds like a good way to start a story. Once upon a time, the planet was much cooler than it is today. Once upon a time, humans transformed the environment so much that it became necessary to say that we operated with a geological force. Once upon a time we could talk about the weather, blue sky, and fresh air. Once upon a time, an artist filmed herself being buffeted by rising tides. Over 12 minutes and 11 seconds, the sun set and the tide rose; softly at first, and gradually with more urgency, she worked to hold onto her land, and stay safe. The light fades and she struggles to breathe, her fingers grip at the edges of the platform, but there is very little to grasp. In Holding On (2015, Figure I.1), Sāmoan-Australian artist Angela Tiatia lies on a concrete platform in the midst of the Pacific Ocean, as she is buffeted by the rising tide. Like the islands of Tuvalu, where the work was filmed, she is at the mercy of the rising seas. Tiatia’s endurance points to the difficult relationship between humans and our changing planet. Holding on is a direct visual allegory. All at once, we sense the islands, and the people, and the ecological crises that are being experienced here. All at once, we understand that the ocean that once gave life now has a different kind of relationship with the people who depend on it, for life. The force of water can wash away bodies and rocks. Within the new contexts of the Anthropocene, the naming of humans as a geological force describes the way in which humans have manipulated and transformed the planet to an extent previously only attributed to earth systems or mythical higher powers. And yet, as Tiatia shows, to be a geological force does not mean humans are solid or fixed. As environmental scientist Tom Griffiths writes: “the new epoch recognises the power of humans in changing the nature of the planet, putting us on a par with other geophysical forces such as variations in the earth’s orbit, glaciers, volcanoes and asteroid strikes.”1 Anthropogenic transformations of the planet are not new—globalisation, capitalism, colonisation, and industrialisation have long roots, and have displaced many geophysical resources. Planetary change in the earth system is even older. Now though something is different, we have a name for it—the Anthropocene—and by telling new stories about it through discussions of art this book explores the planetary aesthetics it contains. Art and Nature in the Anthropocene thinks about what it means for humans to be named geological; considers how we read our geological impacts in the rocks, water, and atmosphere of the planet; and, wonders about the different ways that artworks like Tiatia’s reflect on the planetary environment.
Figure I.1 Angela Tiatia, Holding On (2015). Single-channel high definition video, 16:9, colour, sound, 12:11 minutes. Dimensions variable. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf in Sydney, Australia.
How do we feel about our changing planet? In Tuvalu the water table is now so high that drinking water must be sourced from rain. In times of drought, like in 2011, the island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean runs out of water. The sun is too hot and the soil too salty for crops to ripen. The story is not unique to Moana Oceania. Over the time of writing, the very worst imaginable disasters have occurred at both local and global scales. I have written alongside and amidst unprecedented floods, droughts, fires, tsunami, earthquakes, pandemic, and volcanic eruptions. It was always going to be this way, because these are the ways that the planet lives and breathes. But something feels different this time. These events are catastrophic for all of us involved; for we are all involved at different scales and to different degrees. The increasing severity of these events tells us that we live in a planetary environment that is changing. This crisis of anthropogenic climate change pervades every word that we write, the food that we eat, and the air that we breathe. In Australia, it is impossible to believe that animals, plants, and people are dying in bushfires at the same time that the government refuses to pay firefighters, or that dams are drained by multinational companies, forcing local schools to close due to lack of water. The impossible to believe has become a new kind of normal. And yet, there have been enormous transformations in the way that humans respond. Hashtags like #koalakiller and #fridaysforthefuture and #blacklivesmatter move rapidly through social media. Large groups of people take to the streets, and then stay home for extended periods of time; habitual ways of being and living are changing. And despite the threats of politicians, children have a direct voice at the United Nations. Hope is fuelled by hopelessness and grief, and we are hanging on. In this context, why write about contemporary art? Art has always had a role in describing our relationship with the planet. Is description enough? Is metaphor
Introduction 3 enough? Allegory? Are new forms of relationality and aesthetics enough? Do new words need to be invented? Should we look to figures of thought already present in the galleries and on pages that tell our stories? As a discipline, art history describes carefully what it sees, connecting images to their social and cultural histories and ways of being in the world. Art history helps us to observe—subjects, objects, concepts, movements, thoughts, events, energies, and bodies remain our objects of concern even as they dematerialise before our eyes. We do this by telling stories of looking. In an age of catastrophic change that remains just out of our grasp, is this enough? If art history has a role to play, it is in describing and contextualising the visual world as it appears right now. To do this involves operating in a world of affects and sensations, bringing together contemporary artistic practices with histories that enable us to experience the present in a way that is attuned to many potential futures. Since the ArtCOP21 exhibitions staged throughout the city of Paris for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 (COP21), major public art galleries have asked some of the same questions within their exhibition practices.2 There has been a global proliferation of exhibitions about climate change: Ecologic Powerhouse Museum Sydney, 2019; Climate Change Harvard Museum of Natural History, 2019; Human Nature Världskultur Museerna Gothenburg, 2019; Anthropocene National Gallery of Canada Ottowa, 2019; In Human Time The Climate Museum New York, 2018; Eco- visionaries The Royal Academy London, 2019; Meltdown: Visualising Climate Change Horniman Museum and Gardens, 2019; We are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, 2017; and before these, Welcome to the Anthropocene at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, 2014–2016. Although these exhibitions include extraordinary and powerful artworks, offering sublime immersions in landscapes of ice and industry—sometimes enough to make us cry— many of the exhibitions left us feeling disempowered, scared, angry, bored, and mildly patronised. These exhibitions about climate change, global warming, species extinction, or the excesses of human production do not tell the stories about what it means to live in the Anthropocene. In their study of the overall impacts of the ArtCOP21 exhibitions, psychologists Laura Sommer and Christian Klöckner identified four clusters of experience presented by the exhibitions: “the comforting utopia,” “the challenging dystopia,” “the mediocre mythology,” and “the awesome solution.”3 Their study showed that the impact of the artworks on audience understanding and behaviour was minimal, with only those works offering “the awesome solution” having any lasting impact on the audience. Furthermore, most of these exhibitions only included works by artists from Europe and North America, locations that, although very much a part of the crisis of global climate change, tend to, as Elizabeth DeLoughrey puts it, “claim the novelty of crisis rather than being attentive to the historical continuity of dispossession and disaster caused by empire.”4 Art about planetary disaster and climate change often neglects to tell a story that includes the situated histories and lived experience of people within the global contexts of the Anthropocene. As works like Tiatia’s show, it is not possible to think about global climate change without first considering the way that European concepts of nature feed into practices of colonisation, capitalism, and dispossession. The adoption of the term Anthropocene in the geosciences, social sciences, and the humanities has pushed the problem of what stories to tell to the fore.5 Since it
4 Introduction was proposed by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and freshwater biologist Eugene Stoermer as a geological definition of our times, the Anthropocene has been used to describe a numerous variety of planetary relationships by which humans perceive and live in the world. In introducing their argument, Crutzen mapped a new geological epoch defined by irreversible human impacts on the planetary atmosphere.6 An epoch needs a starting date. Crutzen and Stoermer suggested 1784, equated with the harnessing of steam by James Watt and the beginning of the Industrial Age in Europe. In Europe in 1784, humans had mastery and control of nature, and were using their power to shift existing relationships between themselves and the planet. Resources stored deep within the planet were discovered waiting to be exploited. New machines were created that could mine these resources and shift them great distances to factories where they could be transformed into capital. For this date to be adopted as the marker of an official geological epoch scientists need to find a sustained global signal that could last into the geological record. This marker (a Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), known as a golden spike), needs to be as persistent as the spike of iridium from the meteorite that marked the end of the dinosaurs. To be recognised as significant the chemical evidence of human impact must be traceable across the whole globe and permanently stored inside tree rings, rock and ice cores, and atmospheric gasses.7 In May 2019, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), led by Jan Zalasiewicz, and under the auspices of the International Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy released the results of two binding votes. The first confirmed the Anthropocene as a “formal chrono-stratigraphic unit defined by a GSSP.”8 The second vote was that a guiding marker for the Anthropocene be identified in the mid- twentieth century. The shift from a starting date of 1784 to one of the mid twentieth century, also marks a shift from a focus on Europe to one on the rest of the world. No longer European industrialisation, but the multiple and global sites of atomic testing presented possibilities for golden spikes. In the mid twentieth century, it was the atmosphere of the entire planet that was at stake. The announcement of the mid twentieth century as the temporal site of the golden spike ties together atmospheric models of the great acceleration with rising human population, increased industrial production, massive distributions of black carbon, global deployment of agricultural chemicals, genetic modifications of seed crops, and the release of artificial radionuclides into the atmosphere. In the mid twentieth century, so the story goes, we entered a time when humans and nature could no longer be imagined as separate entities. Yet, locating a starting date does not fully define the characteristics of the Anthropocene. What does it actually mean to claim that a single species is a geological force capable of transforming the entire planetary environment? The shifting atmospheres of fire burning, tree cutting, emissions spilling, resources mining, and population growth have all contributed to the formation of the concept of the Anthropocene. Even so, the exact makeup of this body called Anthropos (human) also needs to be challenged.9 Not all humans are the same. Philosopher of science Donna Haraway identifies how the concept of Anthropos implies that the Anthropocene is a “species act”: as if all members of the human species committed to a simultaneous industrial destruction of our environment.10 In A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, geographer Kathryn Yusoff examines the racism that remains at the foundation of geology and thus is embedded in discourse surrounding the Anthropocene. Yusoff challenges the models of the Anthropocene that seek golden
Introduction 5 spikes. She argues that to choose a starting date for a geological epoch based on the activity of humans, no matter how objective the marker, means the unequal and uneven world-making powers of the Anthropos also need to be addressed. The flaw of paying continued attention to a golden spike, or a singular geological record is that at the core of the Anthropocene is an uneven and unequal distribution of experience. To draw a geological or social border that includes and excludes based on “a single point of experience from which departure for the future is projected” also means ignoring some events and people who are on one or the other side of the border.12 Yusoff’s argument is that any marker is political, and carries with it particular way of imagining the world.13 Instead, she says we need to pay attention to how different “histories of the earth provide a break in analysis and narratives of material relations and languages” because, to do so opens the possibility to “make histories that launch a praxis for an insurgent geology into being.”14 To engage directly with the Anthropocene means turning our attention to the gendered and racialised knowledge-making practices it is built upon. How to build an insurgent geology without replicating the very same exclusions? In contemporary art, the most interesting challenges to a fixed definition of the Anthropocene are present in artworks that are not explicitly about global climate change. In this book, the artworks I talk about approach the planetary from situated and local experiences. They do not pretend to tell us how to act, but instead document the transforming multispecies worlds of humans, nature, and the planet. They tell a different story of the Anthropocene; one in which we might imagine a new planetary future. They perform and record complex histories of planetary destruction and shaping through exhibition practices. They imagine the present of the Anthropocene, as we have already lived it, and as it is experienced. Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh suggests that the great difficulty of writing about the Anthropocene is that the very art forms we wish to employ have evolved at the same time as the structures and behaviours of the Anthropocene, and as a result are either inadequate to, or consciously resist, the scale required.15 Ghosh says that novels require a tangible setting and place, as well as characters the reader can grasp and a narrative that can be announced. However, to write climate change, he argues, the author must generate a setting that is not bounded but is instead entangled in multiple times and places, embraces characters that are collective, and pursues a narrative that is unknown. Ghosh notes that within the art of writing, the very work that does this has been relegated away from the mainstreams and into fields such as science-fiction or fantasy. Ghosh’s point is that that the Anthropocene exceeds many of our recognisable literary written forms. It needs a new planetary formation. And its authors must be more than singular voices. In visual art the relationship of material, to story, to maker is even more complex. Rather than presenting a golden spike that can be measured and fixed, artworks provide critical visual tools through which a fixed concept of both nature and the human are challenged. Artworks enable us to understand planetary relationships as relationships between humans and nature, they guide us towards an aesthetic way of knowing that is not just responsive to change and transformation, but that suggests new ways to imagine the planet we live on. By focusing on the shifting definition of nature in the Anthropocene, art helps us to think through the present and the future of this crisis. In 2009, historian Dipesh Chakrabarty commented that “anthropogenic explanations of climate change spell the collapse of the age-old humanist distinction 11
6 Introduction between natural history and human history.”16 Reading his essay, I began to wonder how artists have reflected this collapse. Was it possible that artworks that engaged with stories from natural histories (such as bird extinctions or extreme weather) were telling more-than-human histories, and suggesting possible ways to address multispecies relationships within the Anthropocene?17 The call Chakrabarty makes is to an ethics of art that might reflect this new horizon. In discussing the impact of climate change on postcolonial studies, Chakrabarty argues that we need to “think human agency over multiple and incommensurable scales at once.”18 Acknowledging human presence both “in” and “of” nature is how Chakrabarty develops his argument further: “In unwittingly destroying the artificial but time-honoured distinction between natural and human histories, climate scientists posit that the human being has become something much larger than the simple biological agent that he or she has always been.”19 Chakrabarty adds that “We can become geological agents only historically and collectively.”20 His point is echoed across numerous scientific texts as they work to define the Anthropocene.21 In the Anthropocene, humans have transformed from biological agents to geological agents; a species shift that defines us as a historical and collective geological force. The notion of the Anthropocene offers an approach to multiple material relationships across geology, geography, species, and senses. Geology used to be a proxy definition for rocks, for geology itself; and agency was once understood as a defining feature of animals, not plants or minerals. The shift towards understanding the cultural and social impacts of humans as a geological force is one that also challenges social and material definitions of human being as a separate to animal, mineral, or vegetable being.22 At the same time that natural and human history converge, the definitions of nature also change. To think carefully about the future of life within the Anthropocene, means it is not possible to maintain strict distinctions between ways of seeing, and ways of being in the world. American anthropologist Anna Tsing notes that although there are many valid criticisms of the term Anthropocene, it is still important to address because, debating and “adding meanings to words” enables a richer interdisciplinary conversation.23 Furthermore, the concept of the Anthropocene has transformed the relationship between art and nature by forcing a consideration of our planetary capacities. Drawing on approaches developed within the environmental humanities and literary studies, I suggest that in order to challenge fixed definitions of nature that are a hangover from the days of the Holocene, we need to expand art historical practices into a situated aesthetic understanding of the planet. In this book, I explore the planet through the observation of visible things—artworks, in art galleries—objects that sometimes exceed the definition of visibility itself. I spend time with artworks that approach the transforming planetary environment of the Anthropocene. Artworks are not only objects and artefacts, but they also do labour—the work of art. Artworks do much more than reflect current concerns; they tell stories of environmental, socioeconomic, and atmospheric transformation over time. They imagine and see what cannot be seen. They do not always tell the truth. In the context of the Anthropocene, artworks offer a new way of understanding the world as an earth system in which humans are simultaneously a geological agent and a force of nature, and not just because we have changed the planet’s operational temperature. However, art has also been instrumentalised, and used to explain the terrifying contexts of climate change, species extinction, and atmospheric transformation. At COP21 in Paris, Olafur Eliasson’s grotesquely tragic Ice Watch (2015) melted into the cobbles
Introduction 7 of the Place du Panthéon as agreements were formed, and calculations were made. Ice Watch was nature as machine, a giant stopwatch formed from 80 tonnes of ice that had calved off the Greenland ice sheet, transported 3000 kilometres overland in 12 refrigerated trucks.24 Eliasson wanted his audience to first meditate and then act. Three years later at COP24 in Poland, delegates were greeted with a foyer filled with coal; an exhibition by the local coal-workers union concerned that diverting investments from fossil fuels would mean the loss of thousands of jobs.25 The aim was the same: people would see the material object—ice, coal—and in being confronted by its materiality would understand something more about their role in planetary transformation. In each case, art was not let out of the box, but told to be obedient. In public environments and under the intense scrutiny of the world’s media, artworks are expected to symbolically stand in for some elsewhere trauma or be read like the newspaper. It is as if we expect to read signs of the world, “as if” these visual materials might augur both the past and the future. In the context of the Anthropocene, these works sit alongside geographical tales of ecological engagements with rivers that can now take a seat at the United Nations; news reports of a nut buried by a squirrel 30,000 years ago; short stories of birds and humans balanced together on the edge of extinction; historical stories of speeding trains lost amidst clouds of fog; YouTube videos of cosmic machines that challenge us to imagine new relationships with the animals around us; and novels where trees rather than humans take centre stage. In this world, it is impossible to see the planet as separate to the multispecies bodies that inhabit it, artworks, and the stories they tell.
Planetary Aesthetics In Art and Nature in the Anthropocene, I bring together material observations of the world with stories about how this world came to be. I position a discussion of the planetary within a set of conversations about the role of art and writing in the context of the Anthropocene. I write art history into our narratives of the Anthropocene, and our future. I trace a path for life in the Anthropocene. The stories I am particularly interested in are told by artworks. These are stories of love, loss, care, compassion, wonder, fury, and grief, and many are perhaps less fearful than the world feels at present. I’m interested in the different ways that art counters discourses of crisis and catastrophe by imagining, narrating, and anticipating the survival of the planet and its inhabitants within changing ecologies. This is not to deny that the climate (in all senses) is changing, I tell stories of artworks that are working to challenge the world as it is, at the same time that they imagine it otherwise. The journey is, of necessity, fragmentary. Scattered through the chapters are speculations written while standing in front of artworks. These are direct observations crafted in the uncomfortable spaces of art galleries, that remain critical sites of encounter. Their voice is present rather than reflective. Sometimes, they will jar with the story being told. At other times, I work to smooth our way. Amidst the conceptual and metaphorical landscape of the art gallery, I seek a planetary aesthetics that turns to familiar concepts of nature, and questions their very foundations. Planetary aesthetics revisits the essentialist model of the human: a rational and gendered being who thought without feeling and who knew the difference between himself (he was always male) and the other inhabitants of this planet. My task in this book is to identify how artists have shifted these territories;
8 Introduction how by imagining the unimaginable, they have already rethought the boundaries of the matter of existence. This is a writing practice that activates a series of feminist and environmental gestures that are the result of thinking of things in their planetary relationships. My use of the concept of planetarity draws on the work of Indian literary theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Spivak’s model of planetarity directly challenged the polemic of globalization, for, as she points out: The globe is on our computers. It is the logo of the World Bank. No one lives there; and we think that we can aim to control globality. The planet is the species of alterity, belonging to another system; and yet we inhabit it, indeed are it.26 In this short passage, Spivak brings together the metaphors humans use to understand the planet. Her approach does not reinforce the political or cultural binary of global centre and periphery by which the world can be known, but instead breaks open the scale of social and political difference. Spivak proposes planetarity as a way to both remember and reimagine the planet: “By planet-thought I meant a mind-set that thought that we live on, specifically, a planet.”27 It is the task of this book to suggest that planetary alterity can also be understood via the multispecies scalar conjunctions of contemporary art. Working with, and alongside, contemporary art is a practice of negotiating planetary relationships on the ground. The human is, like all living organisms, a cooperative biological agent and the Anthropocene describes today—a time in which humans collectively (but unequally) act as a geological agent with a transformative force on the planet. We do not work alone. The aesthetic relationships that emerge within the Anthropocene point towards a new scale of planetary connection: the planet formed through the machines of capital, colonisation, energy, and war is no longer the same as the Earth. By articulating planetary aesthetics through a diverse range of artworks, I present a dynamic concept of art history as an allegorical mode in which art and nature in the Anthropocene are haunted by the planetary effects of catastrophic change. Within the works explored in this book, a new formulation appears: a reflection on contemporary art as a new kind of convergent planetary aesthetics where the gallery experience is re-enchanted with energetic encounters with time, motion, and ecology. Bringing things, which are sometimes not even things, closer, has always been at the core of art history. We work to understand the world around us through images and imagination. The Anthropocene is our collective image of planetary ecology. The root of the word ecology, “eco-” comes from the Greek word oikos, house or home. When writing together French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari propose geophilosophy as a way to create new ideas, to generate concepts that can change lives and facilitate planetary renewal, to “summon forth a new earth, a new people.”28 In The Three Ecologies, Guattari refines the concept a little further, arguing that the oikos is the place where relationships occur.29 Guattari describes three ecologies: social, mental, and aesthetic. Together, these three ecologies underscore the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene as presented in this book. Guattari writes that the catastrophe of climate change opens a space where through drama and absurdity a new politics or desire emerges. He expresses concern that “the immense ordeals which the planet is going through––such as the suffocation of its atmosphere– –involve changes in production, ways of living and axes of value.”30 And at the end
Introduction 9 of The Three Ecologies, Guattari makes his plea for a future ecology that articulates not only new forms of subjectivity outside those recommended by the mass media, but also a radical reconsideration of what it means to be part of a society. In his directions for ecological thought, Guattari calls for the necessity to create new paradigms, to turn technologies toward humans, to reconstruct singular and collective processes of alterity. It is in this context that Art and Nature in the Anthropocene explores planetary transformation through artworks that question multispecies relationships between humans and nonhuman beings, living and extinction, witnessing and turning away, the environment, colonisation, capital, and energy. I show how art contributes to, rather than simply reflects, our understanding of the world of nonart things—in particular the ongoing impacts of humans as a geological force. To notice that all these bodies with which we share the planet are actually relationships formed in the multispecies spaces of nature means describing the emotional, cultural, and social impacts of the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene. The five chapters that follow each present three connected essays that travel across landscapes, species, acceleration, energy, and the cosmos. My attention is on specific moments where artists construct ways of seeing that challenge fixed concepts of nature and point to new ways of understanding the planet. For me, this is what art history does. It looks at artworks again, and proposes a new view. The artworks discussed are somewhat sequential, dematerialising from the human catastrophes of the mid- nineteenth century to the planetary disasters of the early twenty-first. Some sections focus on a single work of art, others discuss a selection of works. The point is not to use the artworks as illustrations or representations, but rather to study what they can add to the consideration and understanding of key concepts of our time. My attention spirals out from contestations of capital and colonisation to views that encompass energetic and cosmic worlds. My approach to artworks is two-fold. Firstly, artworks are entities, things, in the world. Like anything else we encounter they are there to be read, listened to, respected, and occasionally misunderstood. Secondly, artworks have been created by artists, who have placed them into the world as visual worlds. Like any particular world, these visual worlds sometimes demand certain kinds of language, or behaviour. Sometimes, my task is to challenge this by exploring the journey that the art work has led me on. In Chapter 1, I introduce different cultural, historical, and conceptual understandings of nature. What is presented is not only a history of human engagements with the world but also a reflection on the way that artists have questioned, challenged, and attempted to understand this world. In questioning the starting dates of the Anthropocene, by taking leave of the Holocene, I turn to the practices of looking, observing, and describing that are core to any aesthetic understanding of place. It all seems to accelerate from here. The artists and artworks discussed introduce complicated worlds that contain a significance we still cannot fully imagine. Over the past few years, many possible Anthropocenes have emerged. Chapter 2 looks at the way that the elements of earth, air, and water present particular landscapes through which we can map the Anthropocene. Their timelines are variable and their histories overlap. Furthermore, the works discussed here do not claim to be environmental. For one, they are not about climate change, they certainly do not explain anything. They do not easily fall into a category of “eco-art.” By focusing on works that at first glance may not be directly about nature, environmental
10 Introduction destruction, climate change, or the Anthropocene, but are nonetheless contained within it, I introduce the embodied thinking and feeling of planetary aesthetics. Chapter 3 turns to categories of existence. The fatal flaw of our current imaginings is that if humans are to survive, it will not be possible to maintain strict distinctions between species, and impossible to see the planet as separate to the discrete and bounded bodies that inhabit it. How might we conserve one and not the other? Chapter 3 looks to artists whose works address animals, vegetables, and minerals as entangled rather than discrete parts of the shared biosphere. Climate change and loss of biodiversity are cultural as much as scientific events. The artworks discussed here address the implications of a new kind of taxonomy that moves beyond the animal, vegetable, and mineral, and turns towards the interrelated contexts of species within the geos. If humans are a geological force, and separations between the human, other species, vegetables, and minerals are no longer practical, then, does a concept of nature remain useful? Chapter 4 turns to the mineral and geological forces of the Anthropocene. Becoming geological involves a confrontation with the catastrophe of nature. Nothing is left untouched. The artworks discussed in this chapter offer first-hand witness. They remind us of the sobering impacts of the global transformations of machines and nature, in the post-atomic age. The apocalyptic narrative of humans manipulating or destroying their environment has caught many imaginations, and yet, other stories of the Anthropocene persist in which new stories are formed. I discuss artworks that employ allegory in their response to disaster; in imagining new futures, new images of the planet are tested, and future images are mourned. Much of the literature on the Anthropocene documents humans, environment, economy, biology, and geology as discrete antagonists battling it out amidst impending planetary disaster. Chapter 5 steps beyond the literal catastrophe of the Anthropocene embedded in colonisation and globalisation, and the construction of the human biopolitical body as an identity separate to the world around it. I look to earth systems, and dive into energetic and material relations, where the planetary aesthetics of the natural world are understood as a site of continual geological transformation. I turn to artists who approach the planetary formed from the dynamic narratives, fictions, myths, and stories we tell ourselves about humans, the earth, the universe, and the cosmos. In thinking beyond geophysical forces, I make an argument for unseen and felt, relational or connective, understandings of the Anthropocene. The earth as it is figured in the Anthropocene is both the planet we inhabit and recognise, and that same planet understood through its alterity. To be at home on this changing planet means recognising this otherness, and challenging universalising discourses of power and capital. The artworks at the core of this book directly challenge a hierarchical order of things. They present a different aesthetic storying of the world in which the precise starting date of the Anthropocene is only one part of the debate. The critical framework of the Anthropocene enables planetary thinking in contemporary art to form at the intersections of nature. The planetary creates spaces to imagine different epochs of the world, phases of development, or cultural spheres. In this new allegorical world fuelled by the data of climate, and the energy of the planet, the categories of nature expand to include new distributions of matter. The world that we share is more than an earth system, it is a damaged planet simultaneously loved, cared for, and undermined by a dominant species. In this, the Anthropocene is neither
Introduction 11 a geological epoch nor a cultural age; the Anthropocene is a new earth system marked by the critical cultural and social moment when aesthetic understandings have turned to the planet.
Notes 1 Tom Griffiths, “The Planet is Alive: Radical histories for uncanny times,” Griffith Review 63, (2019). https://griffithreview.com/articles/planet-is-alive-radical-history/ 2 Art magazines have also raised the question of what art can do in these times, see for example: Eleanor Heartney, “Art for the Anthropocene era,” Art in America, 30 January, 2014, www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/art-for-the-anthropocene-era-63001/. Sarah Cascone, “Can Art Change Minds About Climate Change? New Research says it can—but only if it’s a very specific kind of art” Artnetnews, 26 July, 2019, https://news.artnet.com/art- world/art-climate-change-opinions-research-1610659 3 Laura Kim Sommer and Christian Andreas Klöckner, “Does activist art have the capacity to raise awareness in audiences?—A study on climate change art at the ArtCOP21 event in Paris,” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts (2019), [online first] https://doi. org/10.1037/aca0000247 4 Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Allegories of the Anthropocene (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 2. 5 Will Steffen, J. Grinevald et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 369 (2011): 842–867. 6 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene’,” The Global Change Newsletter: The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) 41 (May 2000), 17–18. Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415, no. 23 (2002), https://doi.org/ 10.1038/415023a 7 Colin N. Waters, Jan Zalasiewicz et al. “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene,” Science 351, no. 6269 (8 January 2016), https://10.1126/ science.aad2622. Will Steffen, Johan Rockström, Katherine Richardson et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115, no. 33 (2018): 8252–8259, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1810141115. 8 Jan Zalasiewicz, “Results of binding vote by AWG Released 21st May 2019,” Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy Working Group on the Anthropocene. News Article (2019). http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/working-groups/anthropocene/. Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters, Colin Summerhayes, et al., “The Working Group on the Anthropocene: Summary of evidence and interim recommendation,” Anthropocene 19 (2017): 55–60. doi: 10.1016/ j.ancene.2017.09.001. 9 Andreas Malm and Alf Hornborg, “The Geology of Mankind? A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative,” Anthropocene Review 1, no. 1 (2014): 66. Noel Castree, “Anthropocene and Planetary borders,” The International Encyclopedia of Geography, ed. Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree et al. (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2017), 1–14. 10 Donna Haraway, Noboru Ishikawa, Scott F. Gilbert et al., “Anthropologists Are Talking— About the Anthropocene,” Ethnos Journal of Anthropology 81, no. 3 (2016): 535–564. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2015.1105838 11 Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 25. 12 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, 27. 13 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, 27. 14 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, 22. 15 Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
12 Introduction 16 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (Winter, 2009): 197–222. 17 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Anthropocene Time: The Seventh History and Theory Lecture,” History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018): 5–32. 18 Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Postcolonial Studies and the Challenge of Climate Change,” New Literary History 43, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 1. 19 Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History,” 206. 20 Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History,” 206–207. 21 Jan Zalasiewicz, “The Extraordinary Strata of the Anthropocene,” in Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene, ed. S. Oppermann and S. Iovino (London: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2017), 124. 22 See Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ed. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects (Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2012). 23 Gregg Mitman, “Reflections on the Plantationocene: A conversation with Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing,” Edgeeffects, 18 June, 2019. https://edgeeffects.net/ haraway-tsing-plantationocene/ 24 Catherine Bottrill, “The Carbon Footprint of Ice Watch exhibited at the UN Climate Change Summit (COP21), Paris, December 2015,” Julie’s Bicycle, 1 December, 2015. https://juliesbicycle.com/ 25 Shannon Osaka, “This year’s U.N. Climate talks —bought to you by coal?” Grist.org, 4 December, 2018. https://grist.org/article/this-years-u-n-climate-talks-brought-to-you-by- coal/ 26 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Imperative to Re- imagine the Planet,” in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London England: Harvard University Press, 2012), 338. 27 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “World Systems and the Creole,” Narrative 14, no. 1 (January 2006), 102. 28 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 95 and 99. 29 Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton (London and New Brunswick: The Athlone Press, 2000), 91. 30 Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 134.
1 In the Holocene
Rain Telling the stories of human relationships with nature at the end of the Holocene is one way to understand shifting definitions of the Anthropocene. In the opening pages of The Natural Contract, French philosopher of science Michel Serres writes: “If we judge our actions innocent and we win, we win nothing, history goes on as before, but if we lose, we lose everything, being unprepared for some possible catastrophe.”1 The problem is, he says, “Those who share power today have forgotten nature, which could be said to be taking its revenge but which, more to the point is reminding us of its existence, we who live in time but never right out in the weather.”2 Serres argues that it is necessary to revisit the relationship between humans and the planet, beginning from the discourses of mastery and control that frame everything in terms of war and property. He suggests that without a fundamental rethinking of our “contract” with nature, we will be unprepared for the future. Serres suggests that nature has a particular agency that determines these future relations. Yet, if nature is a human construct, then what exactly will nature win by exacting its revenge? Serres is concerned that humans continue to maintain a definition of themselves that is discrete from nature, and through which nature continues to be defined as nonhuman. In the contexts of rapid environmental change, the bigger question sits with how we define this relationship. Nature’s revenge is bitter-sweet: to recognise humans as part and parcel of nature means that nature as a discrete category may very well become redundant. Serres begins The Natural Contract with an artwork; a reading of Francisco de Goya’s Duel with Cudgels (1820–1823, Figure 1.1). Known as one of Goya’s “black paintings,” it is an image of brutal violence that was painted directly onto the walls of Goya’s house in Madrid.3 Under a heavy winter sky, two men lunge at each other with long wooden clubs held wide in their outstretched arms. Their faces drip blood and their gaze is frozen. Serres introduces a third actor into the image—as they fight, the two figures are sinking slowly into a marsh. Yet quicksand is swallowing the duelists; the river is threatening the fighter: earth, waters, and climate, the mute world, the voiceless things once placed as a decor surrounding the usual spectacles, all those things that never interested anyone, from now on thrust themselves brutally and without warning into our schemes and manoeuvres. They burst in on our culture, which had never formed anything but a local, vague, and cosmetic idea of them; nature.4
14 In the Holocene
Figure 1.1 Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Duel with Cudgels, or Fight to the Death with Clubs (1820–1823). Mixed method on mural transferred to canvas, 125 cm × 261 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.
The duellists are ignoring the very thing over which they are fighting, and into which they are being sucked. In asking us to pay attention to the marsh itself, Serres shifts our attention away from the rules of the Holocene by which humans framed and understood the world, in both image and sense, and into the spaces where the histories of humanity and the histories of nature converge. He suggests dismantling the distinctions surrounding “nature” and the “human.” For Serres, a natural contract describes the fundamental laws for how to live into the future: a future redefined by human relationships with extinction, ecosystems, and communication. The Holocene was an 11,700- year period characterised by relative planetary stability. By the nineteenth century, relations between humans and nature seemed clear. Nature was separate to humans. Nature was natural, beautiful, untouched. Humans were cultured manipulators of tools and media. These relationships between humans and nature were established in the philosophical, scientific, and industrial revolutions that encompassed Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lead by a dominating belief in development, growth, expansion, and resource consumption, European culture traced its roots to a notion of civilisation founded around 2500 years earlier. Beliefs in universal essentialism and imagined objectivity pervaded definitions of nature. Historian of science, Lorraine Daston explains that “The ‘order of nature,’ like ‘enlightenment,’ was defined largely by what or who was excluded.”5 Two hundred years before Goya was working, Dutch philosopher René Descartes had insisted that “there was nothing so strange in nature” that his universalising philosophy of a mechanical universe could not explain.6 In this context, holding on to a distinction between the biological and geological made sense. Some things had life and others did not. The European enlightenment created a fixed order of things by classifying all the wonders that could be seen and imagined. Alongside science, art reflected these understandings of humanity’s place in the world and the universe. The rapid accelerations that marked the transformations of the mid nineteenth century,
In the Holocene 15 along with ever- increasing climactic uncertainty, now mean Holocene definitions need to be revised. Philosopher Isabelle Stengers describes the shift from Holocene to Anthropocene as one in which nature “has left behind its traditional role and now has the power to question us all.”7 Critical understandings of the Anthropocene have emerged from the congruence of humans and geology; humans can no longer be defined as separate to the world around us.8 If the Anthropocene has a past, then it is found within the Holocene as it was mapped, structured and described by rational thought. And rational thought defines itself through exclusion.9 Although it remains dominant, this way of knowing the world is not the only one. Other modes account for all kinds of messy in-between things; things like phytokarst stalagmites in the Rawhiti Cave in Tasman, New Zealand that don’t fit classifications of vegetable or mineral (being rocks that grow towards the light). Or, the complex performativity of Aboriginal dreamtime narratives in Australia that continually bring the world into being and challenge fixed timescales of creation and the boundaries between humans, animals, and the environment. And there is Namazu, the catfish who lives in the mud under the islands of Japan. If left unguarded, she wakes the earthquakes when she rears her whiskered head. Despite the fact that many humans operate as if they are still within the structural order of the Holocene, the Anthropocene requires a careful attention to these entangled sets of more-than-human relations. New (old) forms of imagining are necessary. If the Anthropocene has a future, then it is necessary to move beyond Holocene frameworks and recognise the other ways of thinking the world that have been here all along. Other categories of matter need to be remembered. Environmental transformations have changed the definition of nature. Yet, as Carolyn Merchant argues, there never was a freestanding idea of nature to begin with—it was always an illusion.10 As Merchant explains nature is two things: firstly, a reference to an imagined relationship between humans and the world in a particular moment; and secondly, nature is “characterised by ecological laws and processes described by the laws of thermodynamics and energy exchanges among biotic and abiotic components of an ecosystem.”11 In the extended moment of the scientific revolution that defines the Holocene, the imagined and the material merged creating a particular view of nature: “nature cast in the female gender, … stripped of activity and rendered passive, … dominated by science, technology, and capitalist production.”12 Nature in the Holocene looked like this, but the material, social, and cultural transformations of the Anthropocene suggest that nature has to become otherwise. The epochal shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene is marked by this moment when nature becomes enmeshed within our understandings of what it is to be human, and the structures of biopower that prevent us from addressing our obligations to each other are dismantled. This is not a fixed date, but a period of time when thinking about the planet changed. The story of nature and the human entwined together goes back a long way, to a time before Holocene thinking was solidified, before the concept of a Holocene was invented. It is Rome, 1625, and Bernini has once again finished turning stone into living and ecstatic flesh. He has extracted blocks of marble from their geographical site and transformed them into a scene of writhing bodies. In the middle of room four in Rome’s Galleria Borghese, Bernini’s Daphne now stands frozen mid-metamorphosis. Her elongated soft toes droop downwards extending at their tips into drips of marble
16 In the Holocene that become roots. Her legs are in the process of becoming encased in bark, and her fingers, already trapped by locks of her distressed hair, are turning into the intricate tangle of leaves and branches that describe a laurel tree. To become tree gives Daphne the chance to escape from the lecherous clutches of Apollo. A conscious collaborator, the tree offers her a cloak of invisibility. Both tree and body are formed from rock. Distinctions between animal, mineral, vegetable, and human do not make sense for this sculpture in which stone transmutes to body and then to vegetable. Bernini maps the porous line between human, mineral, and vegetable. From a distance, it looks like she might fly. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Western philosophers of natural science embarked on a process of enlarging and restructuring their known world. Their desire was to “examine, analyse, count, classify and record everything that exists, and discover the laws that govern these phenomena.”13 Their activities shaped all future understandings of Western culture and impacted the planet as everything (and everyone) became remade as resources for exploitation and consumption.14 Some embarked on voyages of discovery, while others turned to the stones. In The Order of Things, French philosopher Michel Foucault traces the movement from organic vitalism to ordered knowledge, with a description of a fanciful Chinese encyclopaedia invented by Jorge Luis Borges. In Borges’ encyclopaedia animals are classified according to unexpected categories: “(a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, … (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.”15 Borges’ taxonomy is of animals, yet minerals and vegetables pervade it. Order, Foucault says, created “the positive basis of knowledge as we find it employed in grammar and philology, in natural history and biology, in the study of wealth and political economy.”16 Foucault identifies a world in which humans are separate to the environment— creatures “that from a long way off look like flies”—and the set of laws that govern these fly-like creatures. Foucault’s work exceeds the categories found within Borges’ encyclopaedia. He finds order contained within the laws that govern the relationships between living and nonliving beings. Foucault’s uneasy glee at Borges’ “strange categories” leads him to explain: The fundamental codes of a culture—those governing its language, its schemas of perception, its exchanges, its techniques, its values, the hierarchy of its practices— establish for every man, from the very first, the empirical orders with which he will be dealing and within which he will be at home.17 When Bruno Latour picks up this cultural code in the Politics of Nature, he addresses how Western thought holds the categories of the human and nature apart: “we Westerners are the odd ones, we who have been living up to now in the strange belief that we had to separate ‘things’ on the one hand and ‘persons’ on the other.”18 The distinction between humans and nature is, Latour says, about as strange (or archaic) as when the word “man” was used to designate the “totality of thinking beings without even thinking about it.”19 Nature, he writes, “still has the resonance that ‘man’ had twenty or forty years ago, as the unchallengeable, blinding, universal category.”20 Foucault and Latour identify the geological strata that pave critical thought about nature and the boundaries of classification. Yet, their attention remains on a readership addressed by Latour’s casual phrase “we Westerners.” In locating Borges’ essay
In the Holocene 17 at two steps remove (first, the fictions of South America and then the fabulations of China), Foucault enacts another exclusion. In his text, we witness an Orientalizing fiction become first cited as truth and then as evidence of the way that “other” (presumably non-European) people classify the world around them. Neither Foucault nor Latour shake off the “grammar of geology” upon which the Anthropocene has been founded.21 Bernini’s Daphne reflects a vision of integrated world nature, in which material and ecological understanding underscore mythical and spiritual stories. For example, including rocks in her definition of life, seventeenth-century English philosopher, Anne Conway, developed a vitalist model of the world in which “All things have life and really live in some degree or measure.”22 Conway challenged Descartes, arguing that: Nature is not simply an organic body like a clock, which has no vital principle of motion in it; but it is a living body which has life and perception, which are much more exalted than a mere mechanism or a mechanical motion.23 At the time, statements like Conway’s were conversant with scientific understandings of the geology of the earth. In the mid seventeenth century, materials like amber, coral, and pearls revealed themselves to have been formed from living and once-living matter, and fossils seemed to be telling their own stories.24 In 1659, Danish scholar Nicolas Steno observed a simultaneously rational and sacred theory of the earth that he named “geology.” Steno’s thought led to rocks being classified separately to animals.25 The division between animal and mineral meant that rocks could no longer possess a life force of their own but became markers for the appearance and disappearance of organic bodies. Geology, as Kathryn Yusoff says, became “deadly.”26 For the natural scientists of the eighteenth century, species were present at the very moment that their absence was made visible. If fossils were the remains of biota that no longer roamed the earth, then the rocks needed to be read quite differently—the fossil record pointed towards a great catastrophe in which these bodies had been wiped out. In 1796, palaeontologist Georges Cuvier wrote “All of these facts, consistent among themselves, and not opposed by any report, seem to me to prove the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some kind of catastrophe.”27 Extinction became embedded in the very definition of species. Questions arose about whether the last of the dinosaurs could still be out there, in the depths of a loch, or, in a snowy mountain, or, on a pair of small islands at the bottom of the earth. People began roaming the wild to search for the last lonely representatives of a species. The structure and history of the earth begin to be understood as a sequence of layers and transformations, rock strata could tell stories of great floods and the history of the planet. And the notion of geological timescales became sedimented into the biohistories of the planet. Thinking about bios and geos together offers an alternative to fixed definitions, and returns us to Daphne as she struggles to escape Apollo’s clutches in the Galleria Borghese. Daphne is not only an allegory for the contemporary entanglements of humans, minerals, and vegetables, but is a reminder of the order of relations through which the world was understood before the naming of both the Anthropocene and Holocene. She has been trapped here for 400 years. The marble that Bernini carved, and that was chipped apart by Steno and Cuvier, was formed from the compression of ancient and once animate beings, fossils that exist across time. In the Anthropocene,
18 In the Holocene some of these fossils have become fuel; material artefacts to be found by a later generation of humans. New Zealand historian Anne Salmond explains how definitions of nature and their associated hierarchies of value influenced the colonisation of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.28 Salmond notes that “just as the [HMS] Endeavour arrived in New Zealand, modernity was taking shape in Europe. … [and] a mechanistic, quantitative vision of reality was going viral.”29 She reminds us that Descartes was describing a new rational way to control and understand nature just when Abel Tasman encountered Māori in Mapua, New Zealand.30 She writes: “life in Europe was also in a phase of explosive innovation. The settlers who arrived in the wake of the early European explorers bought with them new repertoires of plants and animals, habits of mind and ways of living.”31 Salmond traces the global distribution of two ways of knowing the world: the order of things, in which the world is mapped and structured according to grids and clocks, similarity and difference; and, the “order of relations … a dynamic network of relations, generated by complementary pairings (rather than binary oppositions) between different elements, each necessary for survival.” Definitions of “things” and “relations” were critical to how people contested the boundaries of nature at a time when new species, and their equally new behaviours, were challenging established definitions of both nature and culture. On the one hand, a belief in the order of things drove the colonial enterprise’s obsessive desire for classification and measurement of nature, and on the other, the order of relations found recognition in the knowledge of Indigenous peoples well versed in integrated and dynamic ecosystems. Contrasting world views meant that the colonisers saw, painted, and reported, very different things on their journeys.32 Inspired by Descartes’ strict separation of the human mind from nature, those adhering to the order of things understood nature as something that humans controlled and defended. They imagined the evolutionary tree as a ladder with success measured by how high a species might climb.33 And for them, the universe operated via fixed (rational) laws that separated culture from nature, subject from object, and mind from body. When Salmond draws on Foucault’s work to describe the order of things, she notes that in addition to splitting mind from matter, the order of things also divided the world into a static and hierarchical sequence of bounded objects in which people were separated from the “environment.”34 The Holocene was formed through this separation “between humans and the planet, between our ‘species’ and a dynamic external ‘nature.’ ”35 These hierarchical models were challenged by a view of the cosmos mapped through “dynamic networks of relations.”36 The “order of relations” describes the vital tradition of Anne Conway and Gottfried Leibniz, as it continued in the work of thinkers such as Erasmus Darwin in England and Denis Diderot in France.37 In the mid ninteenth century the vitalist view focused its attention on a “fertile middle ground” formed within a “web of life.”38 Marked by a belief in the connectivity and active capacity of all nature, the order of relations described the natural world operating through entwined organic and vital forces. Artists and writers were exploring what it might mean to create an aesthetic response to these transforming environments. Think about this image. In 1877, Austrian artist Eugene von Guérard stepped ashore at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand with a group of early
In the Holocene 19
Figure 1.2 Eugene von Guérard, Milford Sound, New Zealand (1877–1879). Oil on canvas, 99.2 × 176 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Reproduced with permission.
tourists. He had travelled for four days from the gold fields of Victoria in Australia on a steamer, the S.S. Otago. His pictorial record of the arrival in New Zealand is a triumphant portrait of awe-inspiring coastal geology. In Milford Sound, New Zealand (1877–1879, Figure 1.2), there are small hints of the climate in the deepening clouds and the rushing waters of Bowen Falls, but the water within the fiord is calm. It is sunset; the world is paused, full of anticipation and atmospheric effects. Von Guérard presents nature as a pure and stable witness to two boats and a small group of humans who are dwarfed by the immense landscape. Von Guérard documents the geological curiosity of the granite, gneiss, and diorite rock forms as a pure truth as they rise in a stately harmony from the water. This is a document of a specific place in the world. It is also precise. The granite rocks are caught by a flash of white. The glacier at the top of Mount Pembroke is standing back, having done its work in the Pleistocene, carving out the fiords over a period of two and a half million years. Australian art historian Bernard Smith writes “The European control of the world required a landscape practice that could first survey and describe, then evoke in new settlers an emotional engagement with the land that they had alienated from its aboriginal occupants.”39 Landscape in the late nineteenth century is, Smith says, evidence of European “physical and emotional mastery of the world.”40 Von Guérard’s image contains no questions. Everything is assured, confident. Nature is separate, pure, and wondrous. Von Guérard is well aware of the impacts of humans on the landscape, having just travelled from the environmental destruction wrought by the search for gold in Melbourne, but here, science and art find a way of coming together that represents an order of things. Even at the bottom of the world, von Guérard understood nature as discrete to humans.
20 In the Holocene The ongoing tension between the order of things and the order of relations is shifting the way we know and live in the world. The Anthropocene is not just a new scale—the measurement of a geological epoch that forces a reconsideration of the previous categorisations of the planet—but is also a new understanding of how the biopolitical has been folded into the geological. Geological time is slow, but it can be felt through ice cores, through more than surface movements. To shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene means finding ways to use the order of relations to understand the world today. One way to trace the shifting boundaries of nature within contemporary art is to identify when “local ecologies” displace the order of things.41 In 2017, the story of New Zealand’s Te Awa Tupua Act (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) resonated around the world as together the New Zealand government and local Iwi (tribes) legally recognised the Whanganui River as a living being. By granting the Whanganui River legal personhood, the announcement captured a new order of relations; in the local ecology a law that includes intrinsic multispecies relationships underpins a concept of naturecultures recognised within the alterity of the planet. In this instance, alterity encompasses planetary relationships with spiritual and nonhuman beings. It is a series of relationships in which human being is entangled within the health and well-being of the planet. New Zealand artist Joyce Campbell has for a long time explored these relationships in human and more-than-human ways of being in her series of photographic projects Te Taniwha (2010, Figure 1.3). Created in collaboration with Ngāi Kōhatu Māori knowledge holder Richard Niania on and around the Wairoa river at Te Reinga in rural Hawke’s Bay, Te Taniwha is an extensive project, drawing on the mythology, history, and ecology of the river, and its many tributaries and outlets. Campbell uses
Figure 1.3 Joyce Campbell, Sometimes I Think She Shows Herself, from the series Te Taniwha (2010). Becquerel daguerreotype, 10.8 cm × 17.8 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
In the Holocene 21 early photographic techniques including daguerreotype and ambrotype to trace the presence of the taniwha Hinekōrako who may or may not reveal herself in the form of a giant longfin eel.42 Developed on site, Campbell’s ethereal images blend together water and plant matter with the biological and spiritual presence of Hinekōrako. Hinekōrako may or may not be present in the photographs, some of that is up to the viewer and how we apprehend the images; we may or may not feel nor see her, but she is there nonetheless.43 In Campbell’s work, rather than an order of law, a suggestion of presence is found within the order of relations of the image. Hinekōrako, the guardian of the river who formed the river and now inhabits it as an eel, holds the key for understanding an ecological multispecies relationship within the Anthropocene. The shifting scales of her presence, the very real stories that surround her kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of the river suggests a way to approach the entanglement between humans and nature that continues the vital traditions of the order of relations. The surface of the image disappears within a fog of white haze, lost amidst the vapour lingering from the hidden breath of the giant eel. Campbell allows viewers a glimpse into the river, and thus the planet, as a vital more-than-human force. Campbell’s work foregrounds planetary imagination and the interconnections of the order of relations necessary for working within the unknown futures of the Anthropocene. By using photographic techniques (invented as part of the quest for new knowledge and used as a fundamental tool in the colonisation of the world), to photograph the presence of the environmental and the spiritual, Campbell describes what cannot easily be seen. In the caves, waterfalls, and wet dripping, lush environment of Te Taniwha other presences are felt. The chemical materials of the ambrotype and daguerreotype do more than describe the environment, they capture nature as a more-than-human presence at once contemporary and layered through all past presences. In Los Angeles, Campbell completed a series of photographs that explored a different local ecology. Crown Coach Botanical (2008, Figure 1.4) is a survey of plants growing on the contaminated manufacturing site of Crown Coach Industries in downtown Los Angeles. The plants appear to be weeds, but the images are not so straightforward. Using wet-plate collodion on glass negatives to generate ambrotypes (a photographic technique popular at the time of white settlement of America, and often carried by settlers as pocket-sized mementos of distant relatives), Campbell brings the fragility of the plants into a contemporary present in which only environmental fragments remain of a time in which a colonising force transformed the planet. As spirit photographs born from the collision of chemical ways of capturing and representing the world, with an expanded knowledge of what might be in that world, these works suggest a new approach to the relationship between art and nature in the Anthroponcene. Here, rather than a definition of nature that is catalogued and defined, phenomena are traced in the intersection of naturecultures. Geology, spirituality, water, nature, and technologies of representation are all pulled together. Like Goya, Campbell pays careful attention to not only nature, or the human, but also the interactions of both together. The photographs seethe with vital energy. It is a model of nature that starts to define a planetary aesthetics that is grounded in conversation between the order of things and the order of relations. If the imaging of the world is a process of world-making, and contemporary artists are making artworks that tell the story of the Anthropocene, then it is possible to
22 In the Holocene
Figure 1.4 Joyce Campbell, Castor, from the series Crown Coach Botanical (2008). Gelatin Silver Fibre-based Print (from Ambrotype), 85 × 64 cm. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Two Rooms.
trace a history of the Anthropocene through images like Campbell’s made at critical moments of change. Campbell’s works are both allegorical and material, they document not only the moments where humans meet geology, but also where they meet water, plants, animals, ghosts, and the atmosphere of the planet. It is a definition of nature that includes the alterity of the planet as well as the technologies embraced by humans. By using photographic processes to capture big history, long history, and deep ecologies, Campbell shows how the Anthropocene involves a haunting nature. Campbell documents the geopower at the core of a river tuned to the cosmos. She photographs what she sees there, as well as what is not seen. Nature becomes a story made visible and set in motion by shifting ecological encounters. These are images not only deep in our thought of them, but also deep in time. To rethink nature within the contexts of the Anthropocene then, is to collectively reconcile the bios with the geos.44 Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff explain that political structures are equally geological structures: “geopower—the energizing, excessive and differential forces of earth and cosmos—… provokes humans and other living beings into new forms of collective expression and thus makes political power possible.”45 Extending this to the planetary as it stretches both beyond the human, and into the human, means considering human bodies as part of geology, as geological objects.
In the Holocene 23
Steam At the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP3) meeting in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, it was recognised that two degrees of global warming would mean a complete transformation of all life on this planet. On this basis, emissions targets were established to avoid an inevitable catastrophe. We are constantly reminded “we” are not going to meet these targets. Two degrees is no longer a speculative proposal but an eventuality. It remains uncertain which threshold, which quantity, we should measure next. In the Holocene, the world started to change. At the turn of the nineteenth century, railways began snaking their way across the continents of the earth. A growing human population alongside new ways of living and farming meant that animals and plants found themselves increasingly enclosed. Exponential transformations in industrialisation facilitated shifts in scale and experience. From 1816 to 1818, the Northern Hemisphere experienced a “year without a summer”; the failure of crops and excessive cold that was the result of a huge cloud of ash and aerosols circulating in the stratosphere from the massive volcanic explosion of Java’s Mount Tambora.46 These events determined the approach to nature in art and writing at the time. While British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner painted the extraordinarily vivid sunsets resulting from ash clouds in works like Chichester Canal (1828), author Mary Shelley was compelled to shelter from the incessant rains.47 Shelley composed a novel, Frankenstein (1818), challenging the logic of dominant mechanistic worldviews in which nature was separate to the human (or the monstrous). These emergent strands of a new romantic thought based in vivid engagements with nature were silhouetted against the rise of industry. For people experiencing the social and cultural transformations of the new century, the movement was from a local to an urban environment. For animals, it was from the farm to the factory. For plants it was found in a dual transformation back into carbon, first to make way for more “productive” land, and finally, as fuel for the massive belching machines inhabiting the landscape in their place. Seated upon trains, people experienced vistas never before visible, and landscapes flew past at a new unimaginable speed. The wilderness was now quantifiable, and was there to be seen from a window. It was defined: “nature.” From their windows in motion, humans began to understand nature as an operative force of wonder and awe. The Anthropocene was just beginning. It all made sense. The great belching chimneys of coal and steel recorded in artworks like Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Iron Forge (1772) were symbols of forward momentum, of progress that made human lives in the parts of the world known as the West, faster, cleaner, and brighter.48 In one of the foundational documents of the Anthropocene, Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer identify 1784, and Matthew Boulton and James Watts’ new and improved harnessing of steam in machines for extracting coal from mines, as the key moment when humans mastered control of elemental and geological materials.49 In 1781, Boulton had written to Watt “The people in London, Manchester and Birmingham are steam mill mad. I don’t mean to hurry you but I think … we should determine to take out a patent for certain methods of producing rotative motion from … the fire engine.”50 For the steam mill “fire” engine to work, coal was placed under pressure and converted into hydrogen and carbon monoxide in the heat of steam compressors. Ancient geologic carbon,
24 In the Holocene formed beneath the surface of the earth, was reintroduced to the contemporary carbon cycle. First in machinery and then in transportation, the power of steam replaced the strength of animals. It seemed to be an unstoppable ecological transformation. Historian E. A. Wrigley names it an “energy revolution” on an island nation.51 Steam trains were the next logical step. Freed from their manufacturing confines, steam engines gained the power of motion and travelled to and from the abundant and accessible coal fields that contained a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap energy. Predictably, the transformation came with uneven social costs. The story is captured in an image now hailed as a touchstone of this environmental and social transformation, Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway (1844, Figure 1.5). In a review, William Makepeace Thackeray describes the painting for his readers: He [Turner] has made a picture with real rain, behind which is real sunshine, and you expect a rainbow every minute. Meanwhile, there comes a train down upon you, really moving at the rate of fifty miles an hour, and which the reader had best make haste to see, lest it should dash out of the picture, and be away up Charing Cross through the wall opposite.52
Figure 1.5 Joseph Mallord William Turner, Rain, Steam, and Speed— The Great Western Railway (1844). Oil on canvas, 91 × 121.8 cm. © The National Gallery, London, Turner Bequest, 1856. Reproduced with permission.
In the Holocene 25 But the viewer does not run, instead we are frozen in horror. There is a tiny hare on the tracks. An animal so insignificant that its death will not result in the extinction of its species; instead its networks of family and society will rebuild, and children’s stories will be written about the day that Peter’s father decided to cross the train tracks to see what was in the green fields over the line. A black locomotive pulling a series of open-topped carriages is approaching at speed over a bridge from the top left of the image, dense rain is being turned into steam by the metal against metal of the wheels and tracks, and the towering height of the bridge feels precarious as heavy industry bears down towards the green fields hidden in fog at the front of the image. None of this has happened yet. Right now, here in the painting the hare is stationary, and the train is a “hunter in motion.”53 “Always take advantage of an accident,” Turner said.54 Why this image over any other as a possible marker of the shift from the Holocene to the Anthropocene? It is 1844 and the Industrial Revolution is in full steam. Britain is making the transition to an industrial society, and Turner is there to witness it. This is just one date that names the emergence of the Anthropocene, and despite the romance of train travel, it is not very romantic at all. Space and time are now at the behest of the factory timetable. Standardised behaviours mean that trains arrive and leave at regular intervals, that the worker has been naturalised into ergonomic cubicles, and that the production of food has entered into equally regulated environments. Maybe the people in the carriages in Turner’s painting are returning from a day out in the country, or maybe they are workers from one of the new industrial factories on the outskirts of London returning home to see their loved ones. Their labour is regulated, and their city is being reshaped. Subtle interventions in space and time are no more. Now it is a fixed understanding of space and time that will dominate what it might mean to occupy this earth. The atmospheric record already shows how in the Northern hemisphere a dramatic increase in the development of factories and technologies contributed to a sudden global rise in energy consumption through the burning of fossil fuels. Turner documents this collaboration between humans and technology; when humans and machines together begin the process of transforming the geological and atmospheric makeup of the planet, the sky becomes red, and the air thicker. Here, capital, art, and ecology come together in the mass extraction of fossil fuels. In the story I am telling, this moment is a beacon for the late Holocene and the emergent Anthropocene. In this world, humans and nature are still held apart. It is humans who are enacting all these changes on an unsuspecting nature. The narrative is not this simple however. Industrialisation contributed to the ways that the social and cultural values of the enlightenment were being formed. The shifting atmosphere also lead to a reconsideration of how nature could be understood and defined through art. The art historical dialogues of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are often framed as a battle between two distinct modes, neoclassicism and romanticism. The debate over nature was central to how these artists and writers re-examined their relationships with the natural world in the light of industrialisation. In particular, the allegorical role of nature as a witness to how humans understood and imagined their world was central to landscape painting. More than a meditation on one’s place in the world, landscape painting became the genre through which artists observed the
26 In the Holocene transforming world, both as it was now, and as it had been. The role of humans as a geological force able to manipulate nature through the killing and redistribution of species, industrialisation, pollution, burning, and enclosures, was central to how nature could be presented in painting. Alongside the desire to paint images of wild, nostalgic, expressive, atmospheric, transformative spaces was an ongoing adherence to an accuracy of description. Nature was not just a set of symbols, but itself was a work of art, a refuge, a science, and a very real source of inspiration. It was both organically true and a site for sensory imagination. Angelica Kauffman’s Colour (1778–1780, Figure 1.6), one of a series of four paintings commissioned for the rooms of the Royal Academy in London to illustrate Joshua Reynolds’ theories of art, contains this tension.55 An artist sits on rocky outcrop in the open air, reaching above her head to complete a rainbow; a collaboration with the sky itself. At her sandaled foot squats a small chameleon, a symbol Kauffman has placed here to speak of nature’s ability to continually change, and of the close relationship between organisms and environment. Together artist and chameleon are nature personified in animal and human form. This is not just an allegory of colour;
Figure 1.6 Angelica Kauffman, Colour (1778–1780). Oil on canvas, 126 × 148.5 cm. Royal Academy of Arts, London. Reproduced with permission.
In the Holocene 27 the gendered structure of society determines her every gesture, and the new discoveries of science are present in the contents of her palette. Despite all the brushes clasped in her hand, one small white dot of paint is all the artist needs to paint a rainbow. Goethe’s colour theory in which colour was a harmonious product of perception, light, and dark, would have dominated the discussions at the Royal Academy. Lost in concentration as she reaches above her head (her dress presents the accepted dishevelment of a Roman goddess and true-to-form her top has fallen off to reveal her perfect breast), she is symbol, and nature, romantic artist as well as nurturing muse. She expresses her wonder at nature, as well as her deep scientific knowledge of how light and colour form the world. Kauffman draws on recognised tropes. To be able to work as an artist in a world in which women were equated with nature, reveals a tension that was more than allegorical, it determined everyday lives. For both Kauffman and Turner, nature was defined by observed organic matter connected to imagined human relationships. Turner was Kauffman’s contemporary at the Royal Academy, and also explored the theory of colour as it impacted on understandings of nature. His assemblage Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (1843) overlays plein- air observation, contemporary theories of nature, and references to Biblical concepts of the emerging human world.56 Unlike Kauffman who relies on mythic and classical tropes, Turner suggests that it is possible to blend an observation of the world as it is at this moment, with an allegory that points both backwards and forwards in time. At the time John Ruskin claimed that Turner was unique in his understanding of geology: “[Turner] is the only painter who has ever drawn a mountain, or a stone; no other man ever having learned their organization, or possessed himself of their spirit, except in part and obscurely.”57 But it was also Turner’s ability to push nature into a space of human emotion that caught Ruskin’s eye.58 Even in a topic as mundane as Light and Colour, Turner presents an illustration of how art might contribute new ideas to a changing world. Not just a study in nature, Light and Colour is a gruesome record of catastrophic flood (the traumatised faces of dying people occupy over a quarter of the picture plane), and contains at its centre a serpent: the creature that occupied the edge of the known world. The fuller narrative of the movement towards the Anthropocene is captured in Turner’s terrifying painting, The Slave Ship (1840), originally titled Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on.59 Here, Turner immerses the viewer within the turbulent interrelations of human capital and nature. In 1781, the British slave ship, the Zong, ran into bad weather, sailed off course, and started to run low on food and water. Aware of an impending storm, the captain and crew jettisoned their “cargo” of women and children overboard. In total 142 people were murdered, and the captain attempted to claim insurance on the lost capital. The story resonated through the British press and caught the attention of abolitionists in America. It was both a historical event and a moral warning. Turner captures the narrative within a single moment of collective human and elemental violence. Set within a thickening sunset, the typhoon is pending. Everything in the image is in motion. Soon everything will be dark, unknown. Floating in the sea at the very front of the image is a disembodied leg and foot, shackles still attached, circled by schools of monstrous fish and hovering seagulls. Here, we witness not just the horror of a storm, and bodies flung into the living surface of the ocean, but are also reminded of the connections between people, technology, and the elements. Heavy metal shackles float attached
28 In the Holocene to the bloated fragments of limbs meant for labour. The boat is a shattered machine, capital and greed are fixed in the bodies it was designed to safely transport. In their discussion of The Slave Ship, French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write “All that remains is a background of gold and fog, intense, intensive, … Everything becomes mixed and confused, and it is here that the breakthrough—not the breakdown—occurs.”60 The idea of a breakthrough is critical for the formation of a new viewing audience; in the event of viewing, the artwork constructs the audience in such a way that we cannot help but have empathy for the dead. Having broken through the picture plane, we are held before the image, where sky and sea blend in the horror of the event, and we cannot escape. It did not take long for the narrative of the Industrial Revolution to shift from the thrilling steam of extraction to the terrifying water of the ocean, and the uncomfortable logic of capital. In the new worlds of steam and capital, water and bodies became inseparable. Sharing Turner’s horror, Karl Marx wrote “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”61 Turner worked within this new environment where capital dominated both humans and nature. Turner’s ships and people caught within turbulent seas signal a shift in relationships between humans and nature. However, and Turner was well aware of this, the experience was not the same across the planet. In this emergent story of the Anthropocene, environmental transformation is entangled with the inequality of human tragedy. As Crutzen identifies, the arrival of steam-powered mills, resource extraction, and mass production heralded new evolutions in technology, transforming not only nature but also the humans who sought to exploit it.62 Crutzen’s proposal of a new relationship between humans and the planet opens up a multiplicity of other stories, other ways of thinking the Anthropocene. The question raises itself: what does an artwork formed within these differing ecologies do? How does an artwork reflect unequal and uneven planetary transformations? In thinking beyond geopolitical, environmental, or “natural” forces, artworks make an argument for unseen and felt, or connective, understandings of the shifting relationships between humans and nature. These are the sites where the inequalities of extraction and capital play out. These ecologies of material relations, where the planetary aesthetics of the natural world are understood as a site of continual ecological transformation, are critical to understanding the overlap between the late Holocene, and the emergent Anthropocene. Each is a complimentary conceptual framework that performs different labour. Each frames humans and nature in different imaginary and compositional relations. The far- reaching and dominant European view in which nature is considered separate to humans, and a wonder to be measured, whether through emotional, imaginative, political, economic, or scientific tools, is taking a long time to shake off. Steam is critical here. Harnessing steam enabled rapid accumulation of wealth through control of labour and nature. In this context, the Anthropocene invites a recognition that steam contributed to the transformation of the world as European industrialisation and colonisation touched all surfaces of the planet. The Holocene epoch reflects not just a time, but a world view in which humans (some, not all) harness and control nature via beliefs in an evolutionary taxonomy that locates humans in a separate sphere at the top of a ladder. The multiple transformations of the early Anthropocene presented an initial challenge to this model.
In the Holocene 29 The Anthropocene thesis marks a moment when humans understand themselves as not just impacting on the environment but being defined and determined by it. A shift from Holocene-thinking to this new model of the Anthropocene in art and culture is marked by cosmologies and ways of thinking found in small gestures in which models of taxonomical order are met with models in which relationships rather than hierarchies dominate. As I have described, these two ways of viewing the world through order and relations have always overlapped. In one, that I characterise as Holocene thinking, the world is understood through objective frameworks that maintain a hierarchical distance between humans and the order of things that makes up nature. In the other view, that emerged from Europe as it moved into a phase of capitalist accumulation and extraction, people understand themselves as part of the environment, part of an order of relations. Despite the ongoing attempts by some geologists and atmospheric scientists to fix a starting date for the Anthropocene, we did not move from one way of picturing, and understanding the world over night. Holocene thinking continues, even today. The congruence of capital, nature, and technology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which the environment was irrevocably transformed by human activity points towards an ecological tipping point when humans and nature would occupy the new atmosphere that we name the Anthropocene.
Speed It is 16 July 1945, and the Anthropocene starts now. Some things are already extinct. Other things are accelerating at an unfathomable rate. The evidence of a golden spike for this Anthropocene is located in the geologies and atmospheres of the American Southwest: the environment that was transformed by the first atomic Trinity test on 16 July 1945. Here, Zalasiewicz and his collaborators search for permanent markers in marine or lake sediments because evidence of human activity, and in particular the atomic release of radionuclides, is trapped permanently in the geological record of these desert sediments.63 This is the latest date proposed for the start of the Anthropocene, and one that privileges a global atmospheric marker over pockets of increased human activity. In this story of the Anthropocene, human time and earth time are considered part and parcel of each other. Except in the desert environment, there is even more to it. As anthropologist Anna Tsing says “grasping the atom was the culmination of human dreams of controlling nature. It was also the beginning of those dreams’ undoing.”64 Things do not always change rapidly. Listen to this echo. In his 1968 essay “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,” American land artist Robert Smithson describes the “abstract geologies” that make up the constant movements and erosion of both the human mind and the earth: “One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason.”65 Smithson was interested in engaging new ways of knowing the earth. Amidst various states of erosion Smithson located a series of earth projects that focused on an aesthetics of the planet: This slow flowage makes one conscious of the turbidity of thinking. Slump, debris slides, avalanches all take place within the cracking limits of the brain. The entire body is pulled into the cerebral sediment, where particles and fragments
30 In the Holocene make themselves known as solid consciousness. A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organize this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an esthetic process that has scarcely been touched.66 Smithson does not distinguish between organic and inorganic, instead the geoaesthetic practice he advocates understands the machinations of earth and geology as matter for artists to think with. In this model, known forms of violence—the axe, the shackle, the shovel—are replaced with invisible compositions of geochemical materials and geological substances. In Smithson’s world, the materiality of both human time and earth time are the tools of the artist’s studio: “The tools of technology become a part of the Earth’s geology as they sink back into their original state.”67 Counter to a framework that defines nature in contrast to culture and technology, Smithson’s approach marks off sites of excavation, and sources of minerals, as part of being human. Smithson returns the artist to geology understood as organic relationships of sedimentation and disruption. Smithson is one of many artists who employed strategies of excavation, and dislocation; turning the earth upside down after the massive atomic and social destructions of World War II.68 Geographically and culturally, these artists turned to the desert spaces of the American Southwest. Looking for ways to decentre the institutional structures of the art gallery, artists like Michael Heizer began to engage with the spatial environment outside the gallery. For Double Negative (1969), Heizer shifted over 250,000 tons of earth, permanently cutting a very human signature into the desert environment. An act of “cowboy” land art, the work remains a permanent feature of Overton, Nevada, only 120 kilometres from the US government’s Nevada Test site. It is a catastrophic aesthetics. Nearby, works such as Jean Tinguely’s autodestructive Study for an End of the World No. 2, Nevada (1962) had occupied the dry lake beds. Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field (1977) near Quemado, New Mexico is only two hours from the Trinity test site. Each work reveals assumptions about the geological, material, and cultural threshold of the land. There is also a warning here about the careful rehearsal of clichés about earth and environment art. These works remain critical records of the environmental transformations of the mid twentieth century. Their concerns were for art as it moves into the environment (natural, human, human- influenced). Imposed onto the surface, and dug into the ground, these works overlook diverse histories of existence and relationships between people and the environment formed over both earth time and human time. And yet, our narratives of both environmental art and the Anthropocene always end up here, in Land Art.69 The landscape of the desert is the site in which the colonising forces of art and the Anthropocene met again, literally. For, according to the announcements made in May 2019 by Zalasiewicz on behalf of the Anthropocene Working Group, the Anthropocene starts here: “These layers can be subsequently tilted, crumpled, dislocated, even turned upside down, but their relative original order forms the proxy for time.”70 In this desert of the Anthropocene, multiple Anthropocenes become visible in both artworks and sedimentary layers. They suggest an unconformity, a twisting in-between layer that extends beyond the steam of the industrial revolution and turns towards the atmosphere of atomic energy. In framing artistic practice as geological process, Smithson conceived of his work as part of an interconnected ecological and geoaesthetic system. Smithson’s play of images parallels the mind and the earth, along with thinking and making, connecting
In the Holocene 31 the iconography of the desert to social and cultural complexity, and the work of art. Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty (1970) a massive earthwork at Rozel Point in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, embraced the entropic forces of the environment. Built in collaboration with Bob Phillips, a Utah contractor experienced in the building of mineral-extraction dykes, Spiral Jetty is 457 metres long, 4.6 metres wide, a counterclockwise spiral and only visible when climatic conditions cause the level of the lake to drop below an elevation of 1280.2 metres.71 When Spiral Jetty was built, the water in the lake was particularly low, but by 1972 it had risen dramatically, mostly submerging the Jetty until 2002, when a severe drought caused the lake to recede and the work was revealed as a habitat encrusted with salty jewels. As I write elsewhere, if Spiral Jetty is a suitable marker of the Anthropocene, it is a marker formed through organic relationships of sedimentation and disruption, no longer just an artwork, but an entropic ecosystem.72 As a troubled and yet perfect marker for the Anthropocene, it was only when we all started looking for it that Smithson’s Spiral Jetty re-emerged from the Great Salt Lake.73 Smithson’s work remains a crucial touchstone for discussions of the Anthropocene, because his writing shows us the moment at which the human became geology. He writes: “As an artist it is sort of interesting to take on the persona of a geologic agent where man actually becomes part of that process rather than overcoming it—rather than overcoming the natural processes of challenging the situation.”74 Smithson does not romanticise, but describes the artist aligned with the harmful forces of nature. Unidealised and distressed. Mind and earth. Cognition and materiality. And, the artwork, Spiral Jetty: a newly emergent liquid desert world, collaboratively remade by critters while humans were looking at the landscape instead of the planet. Smithson’s focus was entropy, and Spiral Jetty was more than just an object in the desert but included a narrated film of a flight that circles above the desert. Smithson’s narration of the flight recalls the journeys made by scientists as they flew through the atomic clouds. He talks of searing blindness caused by looking too closely at the sun, and the realisation that to tell the story of Spiral Jetty, he would need to search the deep layers of the geological world from far above the planet: “The continents of the Jurassic Period merged with continents of today.”75 Smithson starts looking for the elements that make up the shifting geochemical composition of the planet, the Pterodactyls, corals, and sponges of a previous age. The golden spike of the Anthropocene in the deserts of America’s Southwest does not simply appear if one just looks hard enough; like Spiral Jetty it is a spike formed within layers of sedimentation and language. It is, as Kathryn Yusoff says, “not an abstract spike.”76 The structures of human being and belonging that have wrapped the planet in a toxic atmosphere are complex accretions of rain, steam and speed. Over the past 70 or so years, the new planetary climate has left its historical touches in small clusters of survival, and large tracts of death. Entangled with the sickening breath of nuclear fallout, people continued to live and imagine new forms of control. To imagine any form of control, let alone this, is to anticipate something about how the future might appear. Smithson, again, whispers in my ear: … no materials are solid, they all contain caverns and fissures. … By refusing ‘technological miracles’ the artist begins to know the corroded moments, the carboniferous states of thought, the shrinkage of mental mud, in the geologic chaos—in the strata of esthetic consciousness.77
32 In the Holocene What kind of imaginary is this? A dream? By describing geology as it is understood via the surface of the earth, Smithson connects together a deep ecology of humans and the environment. Smithson emphasises organic relationships between the human and the geological, as connected processes of erosion, sedimentation, and disruption. But, there is also another step here. Smithson brings together the human and the earth, into a sedimentary state that is both more than human, and more than geological. If the Anthropocene is the age when humans have become a geological force, a time that begins at this moment that both artists and scientists meet in the Southwest deserts of America, then this moment also marks the global transformation of organic and geological energies across the planet. This Anthropocene not only frames the desert horizon, but also produces a set of sensations, affects, and intensities that traverse planetary geoaesthetics. The atomic age did not only begin in America. In 1953, the Australian government gifted large tracts of desert land to the British government for a series of atomic tests. Prime Minister Robert Menzies hoped that he too could have a slice of the atomic pie.78 Both governments considered the gifted sites sparsely populated; simultaneously overlooking the 60,000-year continuous occupation of the land by Aboriginal peoples, and forcibly removing these people from their Country. The Maralinga test-site in South Australia was opened on 27 September 1956 as a permanent proving ground for British testing of nuclear weapons. Between 1956 and 1963 the British conducted seven major trials, alongside numerous (significantly more deadly) experimental tests. Former Yalata Community chairperson, Mimi Smart explains: Because of the poison from the bombs being tested at Maralinga the country is no good. No good at all. That poison has killed so many of our people. Through that atomic bomb. And radiation on everything … sand, trees, animals, buildings and other things. Our families are upset by all this mess.79 The land remains contaminated. At the Breakaway site, the British exploded a 10- kiloton atomic bomb inside a 100-foot tower at 5am on 22 October 1956 turning the red desert sand into opaque green crystallized glass. This is the moment at which the maintenance of Country by traditional owners became layered with the dual realities of the mid-century Anthropocene: colonial dispossession and atmospheric transformation. Kathryn Yusoff continues her thoughts on the mid-century golden spike, arguing that each spike marks a site of displacement: “Because all the proffered Golden Spikes impale flesh, they are sites of violence enacted on the integrity of subjectivity, corporeality, and territoriality.”80 In Australia, the violence of subjectivity, corporeality, and territoriality make up the layers of this particular golden spike of the Anthropocene, sited on Country occupied by people both invisible to, and disregarded by the governments of the time. In this atomic Anthropocene, some of these inhabitants are the atmospheric residues of nuclear violence. Australian Aboriginal artist Yhonnie Scarce of the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples, was born in Woomera, South Australia. Maralinga is near Scarce’s grandfather’s Country, exposed to ionising radiation, the dispersal of radioactive substances and
In the Holocene 33 the atmospheric drift of toxic materials that resulted from the British tests. To directly address the testing of nuclear devices on Country, Scarce brings together her family stories with evidence: sand, glass, and breath. Once the desert sands were turned to poisoned glass, people could no longer harvest staple sources of food like the murrnong (yam daisy, Microseris lanceolata). Working with glass, Scarce takes the yam and blows a new breath through it. It is this doubling of the human and atmospheric that makes Scarce’s giant glass cloud Thunder Raining Poison (2015, Figures 1.7 and 1.8) catch in the throat. Formed from over 2000 individually blown glass yams, Thunder Raining Poison hangs in a formation over 5 metres in height. It is difficult to stand beneath. It is difficult to breath beneath its weight. To make each yam, Scarce heats glass in a furnace to more than 1200 degrees Celsius. After removing the hot glass carefully with a blow pipe, she breathes into the hot soft body, shaping it with hands and gloves, before waiting for it to harden.81 Scarce describes the glass as she works with it: “It is alive, it’s moving, it comes from something very still—sand—and is made live by heat.”82 Scarce tells her family’s story, but more than that she tells the story of Country. Maralinga is a Garik Aboriginal word for “thunder.” Thunder Raining Poison presents a story of Country that is both easy and difficult to tell. Easy, because the legacy of atomic testing remains present today, difficult, because these horrors are real. Real people, real places. Instead of avoiding the violence and death of atomic testing, Scarce employs the familiar atmospheric image of an atomic cloud. But here, the cloud of yams rains back down onto the earth and contains within it all bodies, and stories. The legacy of the testing of nuclear weapons at Maralinga brings together multiple strands of the Anthropocene, as more than a geological epoch. Here, the lives of people and environment are entangled with geological and atmospheric layers that were mythologised by white settlers as “the desolate Outback.”83 As Aboriginal historian Bruce Pascoe notes, “Many Australians find it hard to imagine the area as a once productive and healthy environment for large numbers of Aboriginal people.”84 The molten sand that makes up this landscape of the Anthropocene reflects more than just an epoch, it is a site where humans unleashed their geological forces, transforming Country for tens of thousands of years into our collective futures. Tens of thousands, because it is difficult to measure the half-life of the fallout that was ineptly buried and reburied by the British in the “clean up” operations during the 1980s. At Maralinga, the Anthropocene shows its true speed. This move to the desert in search of the Anthropocene is about more than telling stories of Anthropocene landscapes. The search is entangled with the kinds of views that people find. Amidst other landscapes, Anna Tsing writes that “Telling stories of landscape requires getting to know the inhabitants of the landscape, human and not human.”85 Scarce relocates this human and nonhuman landscape into the gallery. Back in the Utah desert, American artist Nancy Holt focused her practice on framing the landscape (the existing space of the environment) in order to map the scale of the human onto the planet and the cosmos. Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–1976) are four immense concrete cylinders punctuated by holes that let in patterns of light. The 2.7-metre-high tunnels are arranged in an open and slightly twisted cross that aligns with the winter and summer solstice, and offer a human-scaled space from which to view the cosmos. The environment flows through the work, in the morning
34 In the Holocene
Figure 1.7 Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison (2015). 2000 blown glass yams, stainless steel, and reinforced wire, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photograph by Janelle Low. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY.
In the Holocene 35
Figure 1.8 Yhonnie Scarce, Thunder Raining Poison (2015). Detail. 2000 blown glass yams, stainless steel, and reinforced wire, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tarnanthi Festival Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia. Photograph by Janelle Low. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and THIS IS NO FANTASY.
the sun seeps inside the work colouring the concrete and at night, star patterns float across the human bodies sheltering within the circular space. Holt writes: “the channeling of the energy and elements of the earth can be done intelligently with the long- term benefit of the planet in mind. In doing so, we become nature’s agents rather than nature’s aggressors.”86 It might seem that this concrete intervention in the land is the inverse of Scarce’s glass yams, but to use Alena J. Williams’ description of Holt’s work, both artists “illustrate how the constitution of landscape is bound not only to the physicality of the earth, but also to the physiology and psychology of the viewer, as well as the sensibility of the person framing its view.”87 The atmosphere of the landscape as it has been formed within the Anthropocene is shared across the planet. Close to Holt’s tunnels, the multitude of critters that make up Smithson’s jetty absorb and process the air of the Anthropocene, and on the other side of the world Scarce captures the human breath of centuries inside a fragile glass yam. Here in the desert, Holt places the human body inside the artwork, punctuated by small fragments of the cosmos. Just enough that we remember where we are. Williams continues: “Clearly, understanding the significance of the term landscape is often a matter of determining who is engaged
36 In the Holocene with it, and under what conditions.”88 Or, as Holt said of a later work “I build a work that continues the flow and makes it visible and more conscious.”89 Naming the mid twentieth century as the starting point of the Anthropocene forces us to confront the crossroads of atmospheric pollution, resource extraction, land grabs, colonial dispossession, and betrayal. In these contexts, the age of the Anthropocene needs to be defined more broadly than just geology, and species extinctions, and climate change. The Anthropocene is not an abstract geology, but a heterogeneous composition formed on top of the horrors of the Holocene, and yet containing new horrors of its own. By the 1960s, Britain, France, and America had conducted hundreds of tests in Australia and across the Pacific, their fallout distributed around the planet and seeping into the bones and bodies of animals, and the roots and leaves of plants. This is the moment at which the invisible spike of the Anthropocene permeates both the atmosphere and the languages we use to understand it. In the minutes after the Trinity explosion in 1945, Robert Oppenheimer drew on the texts of the Bhagavad Gita as he witnessed “the radiance of a thousand suns.”90 Thinking about another moment in the history of atomic testing, Māori poet Hone Tūwhare also draws upon the allegory of the sun in his poem “No Ordinary Sun” (1959).91 Tūwhare does not present a celebration of immensity, but deadly atomic breath captured in the leaves of a tree. The tree has already known violence through the axe and fire, but now the sun has been harnessed, with a warmth the tree should no longer trust. The warning to the tree is not just about the brightness of a sun that obliterates all shadows, but about allegory and metaphor: the stories that speak to historical and collective knowledges. Allegory is not an abstraction. Tūwhare documents how the environmental and atmospheric transformations of the Anthropocene have entered the bodies of humans, animals, and plants. When Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, her focus was on telling a fable of a local environment and the resonances it had for planetary life. Silent Spring employed the poetics of metaphor to critique the scientific models that created toxic chemicals, synthetic pesticides, and the silence that results from turning the other way. This is an allegory repeated around the world. As well as changing destructive behaviours, Carson manifested the possibility that nature and culture are not separate things, that instead they are entangled with the allegories and metaphors by which we make sense of the planet. Carson combined science and the fable to cast her warning. Tūwhare grasps at an image of nuclear grief—a warning—for the tree. The naturalising of the atomic age within the definition of the Anthropocene represents not just how “local landscapes reflect global crises” but also how land formed over the course of geological time, is also contemporary and formed by the conditions of the present.92 This understanding of human and nature figured together within an allegorical environment is the work of planetary aesthetics. Looking back through the histories of humans defining nature, it is not hard to find where artists have pointed out these bodily sites of resistance: where the taxonomies of science that have ruled and controlled the operations of the world since the enlightenment and throughout the Holocene, have been directly challenged by the Anthropocene. Yet, how does art approach nature without becoming an illustration? One answer is within the activity of making, not just inside the objects made. Smithson created a visual and conceptual language for human geology in the making and in this Spiral Jetty marks one golden spike for the Anthropocene.
In the Holocene 37 Artists make images of the most awful of situations. In a real and practical sense, artists are responsible for visions of the future. The prehistories of the Anthropocene are found in the images of geology, humans, plants, and other species in the environment that occupied us in the Holocene. Goya’s black paintings covered the walls of a private home, painted in the same year that the Antarctic ice-sheets were first sighted by European travellers. The two events might seem unconnected, but Goya’s images are not separate to the social, cultural, political, and environmental explosion that this encounter with the far south entailed. Today, similar encounters continue to transform art. Local destruction and extinction events from the past become models for the future, ecosystems contained within galleries challenge the worlds outside the white walls, and the impossibilities of communication across species activates a challenge to how we make kin. This imaging of the world returns in Undermining, Lucy Lippard’s survey of the work of land art. Her final line reads: “On behalf of the land and everything living on it, new image wars must be waged.”93 What is a suitable multispecies imaging of the world for the Anthropocene? What kinds of war might we wage? Considering nature and the human together introduces the ecological by revisiting the concept of species within the context of the biosphere (i.e., Goya’s marsh and all the creatures that live within it placed alongside Scarce’s Thunder Raining Poison and its collective stories told over thousands of years, and the living geological entity that is Smithson’s Spiral Jetty). Paying attention to the sensory world of both the marsh and the human, within a multispecies storying of the world, introduces a different kind of accountancy where humanity is understood as one species amongst many. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gathers together and assesses the work of thousands of scientists to present reports that speak with one “neutral” voice on connections between different parts of the earth system. Their aim is to “determine the state of knowledge on climate change [and identify] where there is agreement in the scientific community on topics related to climate change, and where further research is needed.”94 The IPCC identifies ways of seeing causal connections over time and space, whether atmospheric, geological, or hydrological, ocean acidification, or climate mitigation. Their analysis presents the profile of the planet as it splutters oil and burns trees at astounding rates due to the impacts of a new operating system called the Anthropocene. However, by adopting an objective model of neutrality, the work of the IPCC does not generate or gather an emotional intensity. The level of the data and the information can become so overwhelming, sometimes it is hard to know how, or even why, we should care. If humans are at the centre of the debate around climate change and the Anthropocene, then, as geographer Noel Castree argues, the disciplines that ask critical questions of “people–planet interactions” have something to contribute.95 Castree’s point is that the Anthropocene is not just about identifying relationships between humans and nature: within the Anthropocene everything interacts in complex ways. To understand the Anthropocene means approaching the shifting boundaries of the earth in ways that imagine and anticipate planetary futures. The Anthropocene is a working concept, a metaphor as well as an allegory. A placeholder that represents inequality, death, extinction, and fear. To understand the place of art in this involves holding the scientific and geological framing of the Anthropocene in suspension as only one possible Anthropocene and turn to other stories that address first the species question of the human, and then return to the
38 In the Holocene question of the agency of the human within the Earth system. Anthropologist Anna Tsing notes that although “humans have made a mess of our planet” the Anthropocene is “not the result of our species biology.”96 Instead, she suggests the concept of the Anthropocene is tied to modern capitalism and its ability to turn everything, humans included, into resources for exploitation. To connect the Anthropocene to the mid twentieth century also connects it to the artists who shifted away from the spaces of the art gallery and into the environment. This involves holding the Anthropocene as a temporal and critical framework within the limits of the planetary. It also means that perhaps, the Anthropocene does not just start here. Matt Edgeworth, a member of the IPCC, makes this counterargument. He says that “The stratigraphic evidence overwhelmingly indicates a time-transgressive Anthropocene with multiple beginnings rather than a single moment of origin.”97 A time transgressive Anthropocence begins in multiple planetary locations and at different times. It begins in Europe with the industrial revolution; it begins in the Americas and Asia with slavery and the spice trade, it begins in Oceania with colonisation. Rain, steam, and speed. In this framework, the Anthropocene is not just a measure of climate change but a way of understanding shifts in the entire earth system instigated by humans and effecting the make-up of the planet’s physical, chemical, and biological processes. The Anthropocene is more-than- human, and more-than-climate.
Notes 1 Michel Serres, The Natural Contract, trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2011), 5. 2 Serres, The Natural Contract, 29. 3 Serres credits the work as “Men fighting with sticks.” See Arthur Lubow, “The Secret of the Black Paintings,” The New York Times Magazine, 23 July, 2003. www.nytimes.com/2003/ 07/27/magazine/the-secret-of-the-black-paintings.html 4 Serres, The Natural Contract, 3. 5 Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150– 1750 (New York: Zone Books, 2001), 350. 6 Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 219. 7 Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism (Lüneburg, Open Humanities Press, 2015), 12. 8 Zalasiewicz, “Results of binding vote by AWG Released 21 May 2019.” 9 Daston and Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 351 and 361. 10 Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: HarperOne, 1983), xvi. 11 Carolyn Merchant, “The Scientific Revolution and The Death of Nature,” Isis 97 (2006), 516. 12 Merchant, “The Scientific Revolution,” 516. 13 Anne Salmond, Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2017), 34. 14 Carolyn Merchant, Reinventing Eden: The Fate of Nature in Western Culture (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 1–8. 15 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), xv. The original passage can be found in Jorge Luis Borges, “John Wilkins’ Analytic Language,” in Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Nonfictions, ed. Eliot Weinberger, trans. Ester Allen, (London: Penguin, 2000), 229–232. 16 Foucault, The Order of Things, xxi.
In the Holocene 39 7 Foucault, The Order of Things, xx. 1 18 Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2004), 45. 19 Latour, Politics of Nature, 49. 20 Latour, Politics of Nature, 49. 21 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, 6. 22 Anne Conway, The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy [London: 1692], trans and ed. Allison P. Coudert and Taylor Corse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Conway’s text was published posthumously in 1690, and written between 1650–1670. 23 Quoted in Carol Wayne White, The Legacy of Anne Conway: Reverberations from a Mystical Naturalism (New York: SUNY Press 2008), 39. 24 Valerie Allen, “Mineral Virtue,” in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects, ed. Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (Washington, DC: Oliphaunt Books, 2012), 126. 25 Jane Davidson, “Fish Tales: Attributing the First Illustration of a Fossil Shark’s Tooth to Richard Verstegan (1605) and Nicolas Steno (1667),” Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 150, no. 14, (April 2000), 329–44. 26 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, 12. 27 Martin J. S. Rudwick, Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes: New Translations and Interpretations of the Primary Texts (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 24. 28 Anne Salmond, Tears of Rangi, 37. Anne Salmond, “Shifting New Zealand’s Mindset,” published text of the First Sir Paul Reeves Memorial Lecture, New Zealand Herald, 18 August, 2012, www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news/article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=10827658. 29 Anne Salmond, “Voyaging Worlds,” in Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, ed. Clare McIntosh (Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery, 2017), 56. The HMS Endeavour was a converted British- built coal ship. 30 Salmond’s discussion can also be connected to Carolyn Merchant’s demonstration of how the order of things (what Merchant calls “the hegemony of mechanistic science”) conflated women and nature in order to control both. Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature, 290. 31 Salmond, “Voyaging Worlds,” 45. 32 Bernard Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, second ed. (Sydney and London: Harper and Row, 1984). 33 Andreas Hejnol, “Ladders, Trees, Complexity, and other Metaphors in Evolutionary Thinking,” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, ed. Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 87. 34 Salmond argues that Descartes’ model of a “static tiered universe … has put our future at risk” because it results in binary oppositions that lead to concepts of conservation and defense such as “environmental services” and “resource management”: ideas that assume people control the planet via the economic tools they themselves have invented. Salmond, “Shifting New Zealand’s Mindset,” np. 35 DeLoughrey, Allegories of the Anthropocene, 4. 36 Salmond, “Shifting New Zealand’s Mindset,” np. 37 Carolyn Merchant, “The Vitalism of Anne Conway: Its Impact on Leibniz’s Concept of the Monad,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 17, no. 3 (July 1979), 255–269. Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). 38 Salmond, “Voyaging Worlds,” 37. 39 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, ix. 40 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, ix.
40 In the Holocene 41 Anna Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species for Donna Haraway,” Environmental Humanities 1, (2012): 141–154. 42 In the catalogue for the work Campbell and Niania explain “The taniwha Hinekōrako is an ancient, earth-shattering, serpentine water deity. … Settling in Te Reinga … she now lives as an albino eel, under a large flat rock called Hinekuia beneath Te Reinga Falls.” In John C. Welchman, On the Last Afternoon: Disrupted Ecologies and the Work of Joyce Campbell (Berlin and Wellington: Sternberg Press and Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi, 2019), 203–205. 43 Tim Corballis, “Two installations by Joyce Campbell at the Adam Art Gallery,” Circuit Artist Film and Video Aotearoa New Zealand, October 16, 2019. www.circuit.org. nz/b log/t wo-i nstallations-b y-j oyce-c ampbell-a t-t he-a dam-a rt-g allery-2 7-j uly-t o-2 0- october-2019 44 Elizabeth Grosz, Kathryn Yusoff and Nigel Clark, “An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical,” Theory, Culture and Society 34, no. 2–3 (2017), 129–146. 45 Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff, “Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene,” Theory, Culture and Society 34, no. 2–3 (2017), 3–23. 46 Zachary Hubbard, “Paintings in the Year Without a Summer,” Philologia 11, no. 1 (2019): 17–33. http://doi.org/10.21061/ph.173. Christos. S. Zerefos, et al., “Atmospheric Effects of Volcanic Eruption as Seen by Famous Artists and Depicted in Their Paintings,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 7, no. 15 (2007): 4027–4042. 47 Joseph Mallord William Turner, Chichester Canal (1828). Oil on canvas, 654 × 1346 mm, Tate Galleries, London. 48 Joseph Wright of Derby, An Iron Forge (1772). Oil on canvas, 1213 × 1320 mm, Tate Galleries, London. 49 Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen and John McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” Ambio 36, no. 8 (2007): 614–21. See also: Crutzen and Stoermer, “The ‘Anthropocene’,” 17–18. Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” 23. Steffen, Grinevald, Crutzen et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” 842–67. Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Thesis,” 197–222. 50 Italics in original. Cited in Francis Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution  ed. Arthur Elton (Norwich: Paladin, Adams and Dart, 1968), 7. 51 E. A. Wrigley, Energy and the English Industrial Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 44. 52 William Makepeace Thackeray, “May Gambols; or, Titmarsh on the Picture Galleries,” Fraser’s Magazine 29, no. 174 (1844): 712–713, quoted in John Gage, Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed (London: Allen Lane, 1972), 14. 53 Inigo Thomas, “The Chase,” London Review of Books 38, no. 20 (2016): 15–18. 54 Cited in Thomas, “The Chase,” 15–18. 55 See also: Janine Randerson, Weather as Medium: Toward a Meteorological Art (Cambridge MA and London: MIT Press, 2018). 56 Joseph Mallord William Turner, Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) -the Morning after the Deluge -Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (1843). Oil on canvas, 787 × 787 mm, Tate Galleries, London. 57 John Ruskin quoted in Robert Hewison, John Ruskin: The Argument of the Eye (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 44. www.victorianweb.org/authors/ruskin/ hewison/2.html 58 Ruskin labelled this bringing together of human emotion and nature “the pathetic fallacy.” John Ruskin, “Of the Pathetic Fallacy,” Modern Painters, Vol. III (London: George Allen, 2006), 161–177. 59 See also Sean Metzger’s discussion in The Chinese Atlantic: Seascapes and the Theatricality of Globalization (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020).
In the Holocene 41 60 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 132. 61 Karl Marx, “Chapter Thirty-one: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” Capital, Vol. 1 . www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm 62 Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind: The Anthropocene,” 23. Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?” 614–21. 63 Zalasiewicz, “The Extraordinary Strata of the Anthropocene,” 124. 64 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015), 3. 65 Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,” first published in Artforum, New York, September 1968, reprinted in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996), 100. 66 Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind,” 100. 67 Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind,” 104. 68 Jeffrey Kastner and Brian Wallis, eds. Land and Environmental Art (London and New York, Phaidon Press, 1998). 69 Liz Linden and I discuss this particular convergence here: Susan Ballard and Liz Linden, “Spiral Jetty, Geoaesthetics, and Art: Writing the Anthropocene,” The Anthropocene Review 6, no. 1–2 (April 2019): 142–61. doi: 10.1177/2053019619839443. 70 Jan Zalasiewicz, The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 29. 71 1500 feet long, 15 feet wide, and at an elevation of 4197.8 feet. William Case, “Geosights: Pink Water, White Salt Crystals, Black Boulders, and the Return of Spiral Jetty!” Utah Geological Survey: Survey Notes 35, no. 1 (January 2003). https://geology. utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/geosights/spiral-jetty/ 72 Ballard and Linden, “Spiral Jetty, Geoaesthetics, and Art,” 145. 73 James Nelson, “The ‘Spiral Jetty’ Re-Emerges from Great Salt Lake,” Day to Day, NPR [audio] 24 January, 2005. www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4464074 74 Robert Smithson, “Conversation in Salt Lake City: Interview with Gianni Pettena,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996), 298. 75 Robert Smithson, “The Spiral Jetty,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1996), 151. 76 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None, 60. 77 Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind,” 107. 78 Elizabeth Tynan, “Thunder on the Plain,” in Black Mist Burnt Country: Testing the Bomb Maralinga and Australian Art, ed. Jan Dirk Mittmann (Burrinja: Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre Inc. 2016), 21–35. https://blackmistburntcountry.com.au/ 79 Mima Smart, “The Country is No Good,” in Black Mist Burnt Country: Testing the Bomb Maralinga and Australian Art, ed. Jan Dirk Mittmann (Burrinja: Dandenong Ranges Cultural Centre Inc. 2016), 13. https://blackmistburntcountry.com.au/ 80 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes, 60. 81 Penelope Benton, “Yhonnie Scarce,” The Artist Files, National Association for the Visual Arts, 25 June, 2018, https://visualarts.net.au/artist-files/2018/yhonnie-scarce/ 82 Teri Hoskin, “Yhonnie Scarce breathing, and the sound of knuckles cracking,” Fine Print Magazine 9: Nations, (November 2016), www.fineprintmagazine.com/ yhonnie-scarce-breathing 83 Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (Magabala Books: Broome, 2014), 76. 84 Pascoe, Dark Emu, 76.
42 In the Holocene 5 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 159. 8 86 Nancy Holt, “Nancy Holt: Ventilation Series,” 1992, republished in Nancy Holt: Sightlines, ed. Alena J. Williams (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 144. 87 Williams, ed. Nancy Holt: Sightlines, 19. 88 Williams, ed. Nancy Holt: Sightlines, 19. 89 Joan Marter, “Systems: A Conversation with Nancy Holt,” Sculpture 32, no. 8 (September 2013), 30. 90 Catherine McKinnon, “Trinity” in 100 Atmospheres: Studies in Scale and Wonder, ed. The MECO Network (London: Open Humanities Press, 2019), 131–142. 91 Tūwhare describes the context for “No Ordinary Sun” and reads the poem in a television documentary. Gaylene Preston, dir. “Hone Tūwhare” (Greenstone TV, 1996). www. nzonscreen.com/title/hone-tuwhare-1996/overview 92 Lucy Lippard, Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (The New Press: New York and London, 2014), 111. 93 Lippard, Undermining, 190. 94 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, “About the IPCC” Ipcc.ch [website]. Switzerland, 2020. 95 Noel Castree, “Speaking for the ‘People Disciplines’: Global Change Science and Its Human Dimensions,” The Anthropocene Review 4, no. 3 (December 2017): 161. https://doi.org/ 10.1177/2053019617734249. See also Noel Castree, “Global Change Research and the ‘People Disciplines’: Toward a New Dispensation,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 116, no. 1 (January 2017): 55–67. https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-3749315 96 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 19. 97 Meera Subramanian, “Anthropocene Now: Influential panel votes to recognize Earth’s new epoch,” Nature 21 May, 2019. doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01641-5
2 Landscapes of the Anthropocene
Water I start with my finger at the bottom of the world, and slowly spinning the globe I find myself travelling north. I step off the sand, and under my fingertips is a blue-green foreverness. I spin and spin trying to work out the exact opposite of here. If I travel straight up, I hit the coast of Alaska, and the thin strip of islands that make up Bristol Bay become my first sight of land. I start again, twisting rather than spinning the world this time. I head West, scoot across the Tasman, and up the coast of Australia then zigzag through Indonesia, India, and up through Iran and Turkey, finishing in Portugal. Here is my Antipodes. The exact opposite coast from here. And despite my watery tracing of the surfaces of the earth, if I think about the planet, I find it hard to forget the lingering image of a Blue Marble; this planet as it was photographed by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, 29,000 kilometres away in December 1972. My watery journey becomes replaced with an atmosphere of clouds and a great swirl of blue and brown. The equally iconic photograph of the Earthrise taken by William Anders in December 1968 leaves the same impression. Both present a globe floating amidst a black sky, and I quickly forget the small indentations and ripples in the surface of the ocean that have shaped my understanding of being here. Telling the story of the planet and how we see and feel it, involves thinking about the specific and local histories that have shaped our views. To only think globally, of the Blue Marble, or the floating Earth in the dark space of the Anthropocene prevents other ways of thinking, other metaphors from emerging. It is in this context that Gayatri Spivak introduced the notion of the “planetary.” As I discussed in the Introduction, Spivak emphasises that planet-thinking is critical to displace existing social, cultural, and economic models of globalisation. The imperative, she says, is to “re-imagine the planet.”1 Re-imagining is necessary because global measures of the planet focus, solely, on systems of exchange: “the same system of exchange everywhere.”2 To develop a new kind of imagination, we need new a new language and new forms of exchange. The globe is a visual metaphor, a symbol of banks and economics alongside continually refined methods of control. What we inhabit, along with the birds, and wasps, the surface of the ocean, and the rocks, the crabs, and the tulips is a different planetary system. It is the water, earth, and air of this planetary system that I feel under my fingers in my imaginary journeys across the world. Planetarity for Spivak is also about reconstellation—a shifting of the planetary atmosphere so we can see the stars differently. To embrace planetarity, Spivak says, is to break our previous disciplinary rules and “force” a different reading of our texts.3 Forcing a reading is
44 Landscapes of the Anthropocene about finding “moments in these earlier texts that can be re-inscribed” for planetarity ways of knowing.4 This chapter extends my journey into the images and imaginings of the planet. By re-inscribing local and specific stories of encounter—between humans and islands, penguins, bees, dogs, the moon, the art gallery, and weather—I trace the planetary aesthetics of the earth as a living atmospheric and ecological system. This is a necessary way to think the visual and imaginary past of the Anthropocene by thinking it forward, into the future. To force a reading of the planet in this context sustains a position and an argument: “Look, the image of the Anthropocene is here, and here and here, we have recorded it, and we will remember it.” The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the world’s oceans. The thousands of islands scattered within its waters were settled over 3000 years ago by diverse groups of people skilled at navigating complex oceanic currents.5 And yet, until the eighteenth- century Moana Oceania (a description that includes the vast seas and islands of the South Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand) remained within the imaginary realm for Europeans. Rather than “unknown,” this was a part of the world where people, plants, and animals sustained, lived with, and traversed land and sea. Australia (described in European literature and images as Terra Australis Incognita—the great unknown continent) has been continuously occupied by humans for 60,000 years. A site of continual movement, Moana Oceania includes lands that move, and people, plants, and animals that live at the behest of the tides and the winds. Tongan and Fijian writer and anthropologist Epeli Hauʻofa suggested that we consider Moana Oceania to be a “sea of islands.”6 Hauʻofa argues that the European naming of the “Pacific Islands” describes a scattering of “small areas of land surfaces sitting atop submerged reefs or seamounts,” whereas “Oceania denotes a sea of islands with their inhabitants.”7 Hauʻofa’s “sea of islands” describes the tracery of people, plants, and animals across an environment of land, water, and sea. Viewed from here, the very real economic inequalities, disenfranchisements, and exclusions enacted by colonisation, challenge definitions of the global Anthropocene as an industrial capitalist complex exclusive to the Northern hemisphere. The diverse environmental effects of the Anthropocene resonate in these lands and seas both connected and decimated by waves of colonisation. And even after the arrival of the European tall ships set on fixing everything in place, the Pacific remained a site of constant movement and encounter, trade and exchange. The colonising efforts of Europe in Moana Oceania set off waves of industrialisation through farming, forced occupation of unseeded land, the extraction of fossil fuels, massive waves of extinction, brutal and uneven land wars, new definitions of nature (and how to protect it), and the plunder of planetary resources. The catastrophe wrought by this confidence of global capital continues to be felt acutely as people deal with the economic and social instability of colonisation as it intersects with climate change. In 2019, Island leaders from across Moana Oceania expressed their frustration and “deep concern about the lack of comprehension, ambition, or commitment shown by developed nations of the world regarding the impending grave consequences that the current and ongoing Climate Crisis poses.”8 They asked world leaders to pay attention to their local environments. To turn from the global to the local also means revisiting the language used to describe the climate crisis. It would be a mistake to think catastrophic climate events
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 45 are happening on some other world, not this one. Yet, rather than decouple global ways of thinking and being, and begin to think the planetary Anthropocene from Moana Oceania, current macroeconomic models of climate change in the Pacific tend to reinforce paternalistic narratives of aid-dependent and poorly equipped Islanders as victims at the mercy of the elements.9 As drinking water becomes contaminated due to sea level rise, cyclones reach new levels of ferocity, rainwater becomes either scarce or destructive, bush fires, land burns, and temperatures on land reach record highs, articles appear offering “a warning for the world.”10 Scientists, journalists, and politicians offer their concern for economic instability as fisheries boundaries and maritime borders become contested.11 However, many of these narratives risk reinforcing an ahistorical distance to the grounded and messy experiences of climate change. Something, an emergency perhaps, is happening over-there, down-there, across-there, but never, here. As Australian Aboriginal author Tony Birch writes: “Any discussion and analysis of climate change today must include an investigation of colonial history and its devastating impact on Indigenous nations.”12 By the mid nineteenth century, British colonisation in Australasia had transformed people’s multispecies relationships with the land and replaced existing structures of kinship and custodianship with brutal and regimented laws of capital and extraction.13 To take the impacts of climate change seriously means tracing the interlaced histories of capital and colonisation on this part of the world. Tensions between the ecological and planetary space defined by an enduring order of relations became defined once again by the European order of things, and the sea of islands became fixed and remapped by dominating narratives and art.14 Across the planet, the ecological and environmental transformations of capital occurred at different speeds, and with vastly different results. Once Europeans began to solve their problems with navigation, through the invention of grids of latitude and longitude, capital became a driving force across Moana Oceana. In 1768, the British Royal Society’s desire to capture and record the transit of Venus across the face of the sun resulted in art, science, capital, and technology becoming further joined together in the service of planetary understanding.15 With orders to sail to the islands of Tahiti to capture the transit of Venus, Lieutenant James Cook understood that his scientific observations had the potential to open up new planetary angles from which the distance to the sun and potentially the size of the universe could be calculated. After gathering data about how the planets revolved within the universe, Cook headed south and west on a “secret” mission to investigate the existence of the unknown southern continent. In the European imaginary, this antipodean southern continent was a weighty landmass that held the spherical world in balance. Cook would have been aware of Tasman’s map of the Pacific from 1642 to 1644 (now reproduced in mosaic on the floor of the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney), but equally sure there was more to find. Sensing that he was setting out the boundaries of something much larger, Tasman had mapped the south coast of Tasmania, the west coast of New Zealand, Tonga, and Fiji. And at the edges he included a selection of fantastical sea beasts, that marked the corners of the known world. Cook sought to discover what was beyond. There was a double goal here. Cook’s journey bought with it new understandings that allowed a macrocosmic view of the world. Engaging with and classifying things and people was part of the burgeoning new global economic system based on fixing
46 Landscapes of the Anthropocene the order of things. On board, the HMS Endeavour with Cook was the botanist Joseph Banks and the young artist Sydney Parkinson who was tasked with faithfully recording all specimens collected.16 Banks collected artefacts along with samples of plant and animal specimens, and Parkinson made nearly 1000 drawings and watercolours.17 Although most of Parkinson’s works were exacting documentations of botanical specimens, others embraced a more theatrical mode: “picturesque views of waterfalls, grottoes, river and bay scenes such as any artist travelling with a grand tourist to Italy might have painted for his patron.”18 Their work contributed to a dossier of Pacific people, plants, and places, both documentary and picturesque, that became widely celebrated across Europe. Europe was captivated by the images they bought back. This strange southern world, its natural history understood through people and all kinds of species, animal, mineral, and vegetable, could now be collected, gathered and contained in the room of a wealthy bourgeois family. Equally, the “beauty of nature” could be confirmed through artistic evidence of perfect geological formations, exotic dress that reflected the tropes of ancient masterpieces, and observations of unusual animals and plants. By 1800, these images of the Pacific had caught the eye of an entrepreneurial French wallpaper manufacturer Joseph Dufour who commissioned the designer Jean- Gabriel Charvet to create the largest panoramic wallpaper of its time: Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (1804–1805, Figure 2.1). The overarching sentiment of the work was not just to document the people of the Pacific and arrange them in a panoramic tableau amidst an exotic world of nature, but to also confirm the beliefs of the French Revolution that a deeper understanding of the world’s peoples would lead to a tolerant and secular society. The wallpaper was sold with a prospectus advising that without leaving home “the reader of the histories of travel can imagine himself among these nations … and will become familiar with their costumes and the diversity of nature.”19 Dufour’s 20 individually numbered drops of scenic wallpaper, each approximately 2.5 metres high and 54 cm wide, seamlessly blend together to create a sumptuous papiers peints-paysages (landscape wallpaper–painting) that can cover approximately 10.5 metres of a parlour.20 The surface of the wallpaper was built up in layers, first an opaque base, then layers of brushwork covered by thousands of individual wood-blocked stencils, finished with hand-painting in gouache. This layering of opaques and depth of colour gives the paper a sense of being a theatre of
Figure 2.1 Jean-Gabriel Charvet and Joseph Dufour, Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (The native peoples of the Pacific Ocean) (1804–1805). Mâcon. Purchased 2015 with Charles Disney Art Trust funds. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (2015-0048-1). Reproduced with permission.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 47 immersive stage “flats,” detail in the foreground sits on top of loose brushwork in the background. Like the trompe l’oeil illusions of the only recently rediscovered frescoes from the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, it is as if the human figures who occupy the very front plane are standing just inside the walls of the room. The inspiration for the wallpaper was historical events gathered from the voyages of Cook, his French contemporary Louis- Antoine de Bougainville (who had circumnavigated the globe in 1763), and Bougainville’s successor Jean-François de Galaup de La Pérouse. Dufour wanted Charvet to produce a work that would “delight the imagination without taxing it.”21 Slipping between a neoclassical desire for accuracy and the new romantic depiction of exotic landscapes inspired by the images that had been arriving from the Pacific, Charvet constructed an illusion of spectacular and idealised naturalism. Charvet’s imagery drew heavily on neoclassical reinterpretations of the frescoes from Pompeii, the costume books produced by Jacques Grasset de Saint-Sauveur, and the fashions in neoclassical art lead by painters Jacques- Louis David and Jean- Auguste- Dominique Ingres, and sculptor Antonio Canova. Charvet blended these images together to document and confirm everything that Europe knew about the inhabitants of the Pacific. The location is an open tableau of Tahiti, influenced by Bougainville’s description that there they had found “the Garden of Eden … everywhere we found hospitality, ease, innocent joy, and every appearance of happiness.”22 The plants in the wallpaper landscape were drawn from a trip Dufour had taken to the islands of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean in 1773, and from close studies of Parkinson’s images bought back by Cook. It is all simultaneously real, and yet completely illusionary. Pretending they are in the illicit love-isles of Tahiti, three costumed bourgeois French women dance barefoot in imitation of the three graces in Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera (1485–1487); Tongan wrestlers form compositions as if re-staging yet another replica of The Wrestlers (c300BC, Uffizi); while others bring to life Parkinson’s drawings of Australian Aboriginal warriors themselves based on the Hellenistic Borghese Gladiator (c100BC). Dufour’s aim was to present the Pacific as an idealised and innocent playground. Charvet visualised what he imagined to be the calm innocence of a society at one with nature. The resultant imagery is a contrived imagination of encounters with islands of people amidst beneficent nature. There are other ways to tell this story. New Zealand Māori artist Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017, Figures 2.2 and 2.3) is a direct challenge to Dufour’s simplistic and stylised assemblages of the encounter between Pacific peoples and European colonisers. Reihana reanimates the wallpaper into a panoramic video installation that presents a living breathing world of relations peopled by scenes of ritual encounter. in Pursuit of Venus [infected] questions the certainty and romance of the global colonial enterprise with images of the dynamics and diversity of Moana Oceania. Reihana comments that when she first saw Dufour’s wallpaper, she was curious that despite the title, she “couldn’t see the Pacific anywhere.”23 in Pursuit of Venus [infected] reworks Dufour’s wallpaper into a 25 metre long, 4 metre high panoramic digital video, that forms a 64 minute loop of 70 life-size theatrical vignettes performed by Māori, Aboriginal, Pākehā, European, and Pasifika peoples of Moana Oceania. Natural and spatial sounds travel across eight speakers that immerse the viewer in this reimagined old/new Oceanic world. James Pinker’s soundtrack overlaps taonga pūoro (Māori musical instruments), with Bach’s last unfinished fugue,
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Figure 2.2 Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017). Installation view, Ultra HD video, colour, 7.1 sound, 64 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, New Zealand at Venice, Creative New Zealand, NZ at Venice Patrons and Partners and Artprojects.
Figure 2.3 Lisa Reihana, in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015–2017). Detail. Ultra HD video, colour, 7.1 sound, 64 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, New Zealand at Venice, Creative New Zealand, NZ at Venice Patrons and Partners and Artprojects.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 49 interwoven with electronic samples and drone spaces, drumming, songs, and New Zealand bird life. Mimicking the isolated groupings of figures framed by landscape and plant life that populate Dufour’s wallpaper, Reihana presents stories of contact and encounter. Following the push and pull of the camera lens as I travel across the surface of the panoramic screen other narratives begin to come into view. Before me are images of ever shifting and complex encounters. Voices and sounds ebb and flow, a Welsh hymn “The Bread of Heaven” fills the room briefly before drifting off. The ground forms a floating base, a link between moana (sea) and whenua (land). The sequence continually builds towards intensities: the flogging of a manservant, an English sailor receiving a tattoo, and flag raising occur amongst the violence and confusion. Staged performances mark significant moments: a Kava ceremony, a Hawaiian mourning dance, a wedding, an Aboriginal welcome to Country. People are doing what they do; training, practicing, teaching, and learning dances, rather than performing for an outsider. I notice moments of difference: kindness in one site overlaps with the brutality of misunderstanding in another. Entangled in the scenes are relationships and definitions of nature, land, and ocean. It is a mesmerising tableau and everything is in motion. I am out at sea, floating gently past a sea of islands. Waves of sound and action arrive like sets breaking on the shore. The ocean is a constant backdrop, and behind it all is the tick tick tick of the John Shelton regulator clock that travelled with Cook across the Pacific. The sounds of individual encounters drift to the front then fade as the music announces a shift in focus, vignettes pulse with energy, sound, and action. Adapting the static wallpaper to the sway of the ocean Reihana’s panorama-in-motion is a device to immerse viewers in the sea of islands of Moana Oceania. Moreso, this floating sequence challenges the myth of a singular globalised Anthropocene. Reihana returns the glare of imperialism with narratives that bring people together at moments of transformation. By flipping the camera on Cook’s voyages and examining life in the Pacific at this early moment of encounter, Reihana’s work recalibrates global colonisation through a consideration of local lived experience.24 This Oceanic history, though, is never complete. Māori art historian Deidre Brown says that Reihana’s work “speak[s]back to Eurocentric art traditions by reclaiming Māori, Pacific and other Indigenous histories.”25 The performers are no longer an illusionary part of the frozen scenery, but agents, authors of their own representation. Reihana says: “I didn’t want to recolonise colonised people.”26 Historian Anne Salmond calls the performers “new/ old ancestors in new/ancient costumes.”27 The landscape has changed as well, no longer a fantastical pseudo-Caribbean-Pacific, in Reihana’s work an environmentally diverse Pacific landscape scrolls past. It was atmospheric and oceanic currents that lead to the colonisation of Moana Oceania. European desires for greater resources meant that the earth became spherical, previously defined free and international waters (based on Hugo Grotius’ concept of mare liberum from 1609) became contested, and economic systems expanded to justify invasion and theft. The Anthropocene is an important framework here as it makes sense of these watery entanglements of colonisation. Rethinking the boundaries of the Anthropocene via a sea of islands is not only a metaphorical gesture but also a radical rethinking of differences: human and planetary. Reihana encourages us to think this way. Across the screen, Oceanic resources, rights, and labour are redistributed. Furthermore, Reihana reminds viewers that the capitalist and colonial
50 Landscapes of the Anthropocene legacies of the Anthropocene are not going away. Instead, we are compelled to pay attention to how people treat the land, the sea, and significantly, how they treat each other. In 1769, art and science were linked by material observations in the service of understanding the earth as a planet.28 We know this with hindsight. Each transit of Venus has become a marker in the temporal history of colonisation, modernity, and industrialisation (1769, 1874, 2004); the history of art and nature in the Anthropocene. In this sense, Reihana shows how a view from Moana Oceania marks the moment when the planet resists being fixed by latitude and longitude, and instead ebbs and flows with the tide. Arguably, this is the best view of the planet: from a sea of islands critical to the expansion of enlightenment trade and exploration. Reihana redresses Dufour’s seamless landscape without end, turning it into a sea formed from islands of activity, each connected by vital relations between bodies, sound, and movement. Navigation is not determined by a grid of latitude and longitude, but instead by the constantly changing patterns by which the ocean meets the shore. Standing in front of Reihana’s panorama, the audience bears witness to first contact and its legacies. It is also here that the tensions of European encounters with Moana Oceania reappear. Dufour’s wallpaper reflected the image of the Pacific his audience wanted and imagined. There is, however, one rupture in Dufour’s wallpaper, one historical moment where Europe appears: the death of Cook on the beach of Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii is hidden in the far background of the original wallpaper.29 Reihana brings this event to the foreground (Figure 2.3). Voices and the soundtrack rise in volume and panic, birds scatter, and then we watch as Cook’s dismembered body is given the dignity of funerary rites, his thigh bone carefully wrapped and, along with his hat, handed back to the British crew for burial at sea: an act of respect met with horror. Ripples interact with one another, and out of the dark, in the gallery beside me, a child exclaims in fear: “there’s a pirate ship, watch out!” As the storm brought on by capitalism and colonisation approaches, in the foreground are small islands formed from bodies of water, roots, and flesh. Bundle these within an Oceanic sea of islands contending with sea level rise, and the problem of globalising narratives that keep things fixed within an order of things becomes apparent. It was only in 2015 that the COP21 dedicated a full day to discussions of ocean environments. Before then considerations of climate change have been focused on land, urban, and atmospheric effects. In the same year, and as a response to the “dramatically declining health of the oceans, and the often uncritical and predominantly unaesthetic approach of policy makers and big conservation organizations” the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21-Academy) in Vienna embarked on a series of oceanic voyages.30 Adopting Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite’s term “tidalectics,” TBA21-Academy worked to formulate “an oceanic worldview, a different way of engaging with the oceans and the world we inhabit.”31 TBA21- Academy supported groups of artists, scientists, curators, writers, and thinkers to travel to the Pacific, Iceland, and the Caribbean on research vessels. The aim was explicit: to challenge the way that “Western philosophy has assumed people’s lives should be.”32 By focusing on bodies of water, and thinking about the ways that people occupy the rhythms of water, through trade and exchange, as well as aesthetics and practice, TBA21-Academy worked to expand an oceanic world view within contemporary arts practice.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 51 Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite coined the term “tidalectics” to describe a vitalist way of thinking and being with the world in which language is shaped by the oceans.33 Turning away from the linearity of “dialectics,” tidalectics consciously rejects a fixed order of things. Instead, Brathwaite says, in Oceanic thought there is a ripple, an ever-present movement, a dynamic sonic space in which the tide moves with an irregular pulse.34 Brathwaite encourages readers to look at, and listen to, the fluid energies within contested lands and contested waters. The Atlantic is not the same as the Pacific but they share landmass, meaning that one is not the same as the other but human, animal, and mineral relations of capital and power have flowed through both. The TBA21-Academy Tidalectics project picks up on this planetary web of colonial relations in which people, coasts, and oceans are caught within nets of exchange. Within the Tidalectics project, many underlying tensions emerged between geography and history, ways of being on the ocean, living in place, and ways of visiting Oceanic islands. Although concerned with the urgent challenges of climate change, the language surrounding the venture was not too dissimilar to that of the great age of exploration: “And so in 2011, we embarked on a journey to explore the ocean, its cultures, histories, and especially the effects of human-made climate change on its waters and on the species that inhabit its depths and shores.”35 Other artists attuned to colonial tropes, turned instead to the hybrid space of exchange through which tidalectic forms of thinking and practicing might emerge.36 African-Australian artist Newell Harry travelled with the group in 2015 and instead of objectively documenting his journey, he actively participated in social practices. Embracing the negotiated material currencies of the Kula Ring and drawing on his previous engagements with creole and pidgin languages, Harry migrated the concept of tidalectics from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Entering into people’s homes conversing, chatting, and being together, Harry participated in shifting scales, kinds, types, and levels of exchange. In this hybrid space of people, objects, and language, oceanic relationships between people and the planet become apparent. Printed onto large loose hanging sheets of Tongan ngatu cloth in Untitled (Anagrams and Objects for R.U. & R.U. (Part 1) (2015). (2015, Figure 2.4), Harry’s speculative wordplay suggests a different kind of measurement to that of exploration and discovery, as he says—“its not about straight lines, and boxes.”37 Harry reiterates the challenge of tidalectics to the order of things. Ocean, people, and language move together. In Harry’s work, language is shaped by the fluid dynamism of the oceans. In 1937, Rachel Carson wrote the first of her essays on sea life and the oceans for The Atlantic.38 The text prefigured Carson’s observations of the ecosystems relationships between humans, poisons, animals, and land that would pervade Silent Spring: “over the eons of time, the sea has grown ever more bitter with the salt of the continents.”39 Lisa Reihana presents one aspect of this bitterness as a tableau of human encounter witnessed from a sea of islands, by plants, and landscape, and oceans. As if all is witnessed through a telescope from out at sea, the point of view changes as the rings twist and refocus and sound and voice come into view. Reihana does not suggest that new Oceanic relationships involve reversing colonisation (maintaining an order of things with one binary in the place of another), but instead presents the meeting of world views across an order of relations. Questions arise: who is in a zone of knowing and who is in movement? Hauʻofa’s identification
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Figure 2.4 Newell Harry, Untitled (Anagrams and Objects for R.U. & R.U. (Part 1) (2015). Hand-beaten Tongan ngatu, ink 7 parts, each 310 × 100 cm. Installation view Tidalectics, Thyssen- Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, Austria, 2017. Photograph by Jorit Aust © 2017. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
of Moana Oceania as a sea of islands underpins a geography of the planet that challenges fixed land- based relations as a mapping of Anthropocenic spaces. Remember his warning (reprinted in the TBA21 Academy Tidalectics catalogue): to think of islands as small and isolated undermines the value of the sea of islands as a whole. Instead, Hauʻofa argues we need to think along with the very ocean upon which and through which, these lives are lived. Like Brathwaite’s circular ebb and flow model of the tides, complicated by the resonances of ripples, Reihana and Harry map local conditions through orders of relationship. Since Cook’s voyages, the Pacific has been a site of capitalist acceleration. The sea of islands like the images and sounds encountered in in Pursuit of Venus [infected] require new/old forms of navigation. Power, capital, and colonisation cannot be separated from water, ecology, and oceans. As Cook travelled, he redrew the authoritative maps of the planet. Following the ocean currents revealed to him by master Tahitian navigator Tupaia, Cook replaced the fantastical imaginings of the European enlightenment with Oceanic knowledge.40 In Harry’s quiet moments of exchange, and the ebb and flow of Reihana’s Moana, time and history are re-entangled, and past movements are layered upon present territories. These histories have not been lost at sea. The Anthropocene starts here, where planetary views collide. Holding this future before us, the islands of the Pacific are revealed to be actants; participants in the exchange, narrative, and storytelling of culture, capitalism, and colonialism.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 53
Earth There are bees in the gallery, I can hear them. I should probably find out where they are, but for the meantime I’m distracted by a small troop of spiders busy in a corner. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable sharing this white cube with these other critters. It is as if behaviours and landscapes learnt outside have shifted within these walls. Nature pervades art history.41 It doesn’t matter how we talk about art, environment, or nature (including the impacts of the industrial revolution and colonisation), the multispecies relationships of art history often appear as silent ghosts in the corners of our images. It is as if nature continues despite transformations within the planetary ecology. Continuing to isolate nature means establishing false differences between some kind of pure “nature” and other things: humans, mostly.42 The challenge of thinking about art and nature in the Anthropocene is to work out ways to breakdown fixed assumptions and foundational distinctions between the social, the human, and the natural, and to challenge the universals that pervade this order of things. An analysis of human behaviour understood within relationships to nature and power is at the core of any discussion of the Anthropocene. However, the problem remains of the Anthropocene as an age of humans, and the deep ethical challenge that this presents for the new kinds of interspecies relationships necessary for survival amidst a changing climate.43 In addition, human bodies continue to be understood as bounded singular individuals despite challenges from postcolonial, feminist, gender, and crip theorists.44 One way to understand the ever-extending relationship between humans and other species is through narrative, metaphor, and allegory. Toward the end of the twentieth century, feminist philosopher of science Donna Haraway asked “Why should our bodies end at the skin, or include at best other bodies encapsulated by skin.”45 It is curious that given all the technological, social, environmental, and political changes and transformations of the twentieth century, the question was not asked earlier. Anticipating the unease of multispecies relationships in the twenty- first century, Haraway coined the term “naturecultures,” and located us all together within a new “timescape” she named the Chthulucene.46 She explains: “What used to be called nature has erupted into ordinary human affairs, and vice versa, in such a way and with such permanence as to change fundamentally means and prospects for going on, including going on at all.”47 Haraway’s figuration of naturecultures describes a multispecies world that is more-than-human, where critters escape established boundaries and shift the structures of nature. This is the moment when species meet, and when technologies and behaviours infect and inflect the organic. In 2012 at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, French artist Pierre Huyghe constructed a maze-like retrospective of 50 overlapping artworks and projects that introduced viewers to the exhibition environment as an endless swarm of life.48 Spanning 30 million years and inhabited by colonies of living, represented, figurative, and metaphorical creatures, Huyghe’s works traced shifts in the way that humans know and experience nature. There were no apparent boundaries between the individual art works, as both animate and inanimate materials were tied into a perpetual exchange of life and habitation. Brushing against an aquarium in order to let another person past, there was as much chance of a viewer being tripped by a dog, or stung by a
54 Landscapes of the Anthropocene bee as there was for us to spread an indelible trail of pink pigment, catch a virus, or inadvertently leave our hand print in black ice. There were species—animal, human, geological, microbial, and other—but there were also fictions. Without clear direction for the viewer the exhibition spiralled from an initial conceit through interactions with subjects, strange relationships, performers, and environments, and out to worlds where dramas unfolded. Installed in this way, Huyghe’s works broke down the usual quantitative borders between artworks and nature. The works no longer occupied discernible spatial locations. Furthermore, visitors became part of a swarm occasionally forced into dead ends or circulating patterns with no obvious “work” to apprehend. Including artworks drawn from Huyghe’s solo and collaborative practices, the exhibition challenged human-centric framings of nature with an embrace of open systems infused by the volatility of time. Although not explicitly framed within the language of the Anthropocene, Huyghe’s open biological and geological systems told stories about the breakdown in divisions of nature and human that are necessary to understand life in the Anthropocene. One story begins as a temporary frame: a mixture of geographical exploration and fiction. It tells of a search for a critical marker of the Anthropocene undertaken in an Antipodean location. An essay by the Association of Freed Time was published in Artforum in summer 2005.49 With little contextual information, “El Diario del Fin del Mundo: A Journey that Wasn’t” described environmental damage to the Antarctic ice shelf and subsequent mutations that were occurring within the Antarctic ecosystem. One result of the transforming environment was rumoured to be a solitary albino penguin, living at the base of an unnamed mountain on an uncharted island near Marguerite Bay. The Artforum article told of Huyghe’s journey with 10 others to find the island and its mysterious inhabitant. This story of a journey to the end of the world had the artists pass through a temporal equilibrium: a kind of “permanent twilight sleep.”50 They discovered that there was another world on this planet, where the cloudy sky produced a milky green light that reflected off an icy ground, uniformly illuminating the air around them as if the landscape were glowing in the dark. It was a landscape without matter, only light. There was neither luminous source nor shadow, only reflection and incidence.51 The detail of Huyghe’s descriptions, the photographic evidence of clusters of artists huddled against the wind, and the solitary penguin itself standing on an icy slope, add authenticity to the trip, and what was found there. In the absence of images, we needed to imagine it together. The Association of Freed Time is a collaborative practice established by Huyghe in 1995 as a response to an invitation from Liam Gillick and Philippe Parreno to participate in a group exhibition at Le Consortium in Dijon, France.52 The underlying utopian aim of the Association is to gather together an ever-changing collaborative group of artists and writers to initiate projects rather than focus on exhibition outputs. “The Association activates the imaginative, using fiction and ambiguity as tools to locate sites of autonomy and agency within functional everyday activities (work time) and participatory artistic scenarios (leisure time.)”53 Yet, the Association itself is also an ambiguous fiction. Huyghe describes his working method as one of “invent[ing] fictions and then acquiring the real resources to see if they exist.”54
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 55 The essay in Artforum makes up one part of the series of projects now known as A Journey That Wasn’t that have been exhibited under the moniker of the Association in numerous iterations. The story (and later the video, installation, and musical) of A Journey That Wasn’t distribute the constitution of geographical fact and fiction across hemispheres. The documentation gives nothing away. “A landscape without matter, only light” could very well exist in Antarctica, and equally could be the result of a collective dream. On a windswept Antarctic island, the yellow safety-clad artists are seen unfurling a giant inflatable structure: part weather balloon, part monolith. The “experimental device … translate[d]the island’s shape into a complex sequence of sound and light, not unlike a luminous, musical variation of Morse code.”55 The hum it produces sounds like animal communication, at the least; it seems to be enough to summon the mythical penguin. In video documentation, we see the cautious approach of familiar animals and then for a fleeting second a small white creature circles the device before disappearing into the weather. “It stood upright, perhaps a few feet tall. It blinked its round eyes, unaware that anyone had been searching for it all these weeks.”56 In this complex event in which geography, animals, humans, earth, and technology are entangled, we see the first inklings of a model of the Anthropocene in Huyghe’s work. Huyghe doesn’t approach nature but its elsewhere other: a southern continent upon which relationships between geology, technology, human and nonhuman inhabitants, and atmosphere are layered and contested. Together the expedition, film, installation, narrative, and performance contribute to the construction of an Antipodean natureculture, the landscape of the Anthropocene both imagined and documented by artists. In one sense, A Journey That Wasn’t is a direct representation of the way that the North and South Poles have both reflected and evaded European understandings of nature. In a direct inverse of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope) (1823–1824) in which a broken ice sheet silhouetted against a luminous Arctic sky overwhelms and consumes a lost ship and all on-board, the geographical landscape of Huyghe’s Antarctica is lost in fog. For Friedrich, painting in the Holocene, nature was in an oppositional and dynamic relationship with the human, and what it meant to be human. To be in nature was to be trapped amidst a sublime struggle. At the other end of the planet, and nearly 200 years later, Huyghe acknowledges the mediated structures that have already mapped the geographical and aesthetic imaginary of the world and our habitations of it. Huyghe and his team journey from Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic only to find that as the space around them distorts through the forces of ice and wind, maps are no longer predictable, and instead they must rely on relationships between each other and memories of where they have travelled. In both works, geography is an initial determinant that eventuates as a new reality; and these faraway parts of the planet are rendered a new kind of fiction inhabited by multispecies beings. This is only one story of the Anthropocene in Huyghe’s works, and it is important to note that Huyghe himself resists the framing of the Anthropocene, arguing that it is a “word which now stigmatizes many things.”57 His problem is that certain descriptions “wear out after a while when they lose their relevance as a tool and become signs of power, ideological means of maintaining positions.”58 The challenge of writing about the Anthropocene and art is contained in his concern. The use of the Anthropocene to describe human impacts on the Earth system does not always
56 Landscapes of the Anthropocene acknowledge the ways in which the Anthropocene is not only time transgressive, but also operates at multiple scales.59 Any overarching language imposed from outside the story or experience contained within the artwork loses its potential multiplicity and instead is, as I said earlier, at risk of re-inscribing colonising essentialist and universalist frames. To explore the presence of the Anthropocene as a descriptive process rather than a noun, means moving beyond geographical and geological framings of the planet and instead thinking about the way that organisms are constituted as subjects within an environment as well as constructed as units of survival together with their environment. To think this way is to embrace a world of naturecultures, where humans and other living organisms are no longer considered separate. Fragments of this earthy Anthropocene appear in Huyghe’s work as communities whose complex lives invade the porous surfaces of the art gallery. Huyghe’s Umwelt (2011) makes the connection between organic living worlds and the scripted world of humans explicit. The work is simple: a tiny hole in the wall of the gallery allows 10,000 carpenter ants and 50 spiders to travel in and out of the gallery space. The ants follow paths of their own making, moving in and out of nests deep within the gallery walls, the spiders (solitary beings) set up home in the ceiling corners of the gallery. The mystery of Huyghe’s Umwelt is of course in the boundaries of the gallery—suddenly human environments are permeable, and we are forced to view as if from another perspective. This perspectival jump is a nod to German biologist Jakob von Uexküll’s concept of the umwelt or “unit of survival.”60 For von Uexküll, the umwelt was not just a way of seeing the world, but determined how a living creature might be, and survive, in the world. Each creature’s perspective is different, meaning that the world is made up of millions of overlapping units of survival. Overlapping organisms and environments formed the basis for American systems thinker Gregory Bateson’s definition of ecology that continues to influence the way the planetary ecology of the Anthropocene is understood today. Bateson argued that the basic unit of survival on the planet was the organism plus its environment.61 In Bateson’s description, each unit of survival is co-existent with and overlaps other units. For Bateson, an evolutionary unit formed from organism and environment means that it is not possible to separate nature from culture, or human from nature. Huyghe interlocks and reframes the umwelt within the gallery. Carefully constructed from relational experiences, his works become more than individual units, biomes, or simply objects for us (human subjects) to view. Instead, they enfold viewers within their surfaces. Like the geological markers of the Anthropocene as revealed in the Arctic and Antarctic, Huyghe offers sites for thinking about the human within a multispecies environment in which relationships between humans and natures have transformed. In discussion Huyghe comments, I’m interested in the vital aspects of things, in the way an idea, an artefact or a language can flow into contingent, biological, mineral and physical reality. It’s not a matter of showing something to someone so much as showing someone to something.62 No longer performers in an uncertain narrative, the animals (including the viewers themselves) who participate in Huyghe’s environments become model subjects, our behaviours less important than the relationships we represent: many overlapping Anthropocenes, many units of survival. Huyghe’s The Aquarium Project (2011) is a
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 57 series of aquariums inhabited by unexpected scenarios and populated by living beings. Within the glass aquarium of Zoodram 4 (2011), a hermit crab settles with a home formed from a hollow model of Romanian modernist Constantin Brâncuși’s Sleeping Muse (1910). Simply existing within this watery space is not an option for the crab, its environment is constantly manipulated and monitored. An aquarium constrains space and controls atmosphere; in Huyghe’s words, someone is shown to something. It is an environment in which overlapping umwelten determine the nature of species relationships. This model Anthropocene is found within iterative definitions of organism plus environment. Although an apparently closed system, the environment is permeable and means that as viewers, we become part of the world in front of us as we begin to tell stories—it is not really an aquarium after all; it is an artwork. It is the audience who both witness and unfold this architecture of multispecies relations. The miniature cast of Sleeping Muse rests on the bottom of the tank, an artwork within an artwork, that is activated by another living being. If living within a new geological age, where the force of human action is greater than anything nature might throw back, then Huyghe’s extended aesthetic tools of narrative, utopia, wonder, and allegory are necessary indicators of how we might respond. This brings me to the third story of the Anthropocene as it is told in Huyghe’s worlds. Foremost to the experience of Huyghe’s retrospective at the Centre Pompidou was that fact that visitors could not be considered the only living elements in the gallery. This was an earthy microcosmic world, inhabited by many foreign bodies through which relations of natureculture were challenged. The balanced worlds of aquariums were entangled with excerpts from a restaging of the uncontrolled equilibrium of another earlier work Untilled (2012) in which bees and Human (a white Ibizan hound with a luminescent magenta leg) have occupied a loamy field of compost, concrete sculptures, and disused gravel out the back of dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel.63 Untilled was a series of interventions that occupied the compost area in the Karlsaue Park. Huyghe writes: The compost is the place where you throw things that you don’t need that are dead, … You don’t display things. You don’t make a mise-en-scène, you don’t design things, you just drop them. And when someone enters that site, things are in themselves, they don’t have a dependence on the person. They are indifferent to the public. You are in a place of indifference. Each thing, a bee, an ant, a plant, a rock, keeps growing or changing.64 Dropped out the back of the Karlsaue Park is a hollow concrete cast of a neoclassical bronze sculpture of a life-size reclining woman by Swiss artist Max Weber (that may itself be a copy of an Amedeo Modigliani painting). The exact provenance is blurred. The head of the cast concrete sculpture is obscured by a flourishing habitat; a densely packed storehouse and nursery built by bees. Inside the concrete cast, a heating unit keeps the body “alive” at a comfortable and constant 37 degrees Celsius. In the garden, the bees performed pollination duties for an intoxicating selection of deadly and psychotropic plants planted and curated by Huyghe. Here, even the concrete sculpture will leach and break down, the speed of disintegration increased by processes of carbonation. The closer a viewer gets to the work, the more the tension
58 Landscapes of the Anthropocene between alive entities and made things breaks down. Even when viewed in isolation, Untilled (2012) is both a sculpture and a social landscape. The sculpture becomes a site for an ever-increasing cycle of living interactions. It travels across both time and space. The bees must make a choice: allow carbonation to occur and risk their infrastructure dissolving, or coat it with wax. In the gallery, in Paris, the visible garden is absent, and the bees forage for nectar and pollen by travelling down a small plastic tunnel that connects the aesthetic space with the raw streets outside. At the Centre Pompidou, on a semi-enclosed balcony Untilled has become part of the other works that surround and infect it. In a far corner, the video A Way in Untilled (2012) is screening. Human, the dog, is seen at Karlsaue Park, digging, snuffling around, and gnawing on things. The video evades the usual modality of the nature documentary of long shots of inaction and sudden closeups, moments of change: sex, and death. The film follows her occasionally veering off to investigate a bee in a sunflower, or turning away from the screen as she chews through an unidentifiable yet bloody animal head. Through her practices that disturb the dirt, Human activates the transformation of living matter to dead matter and back again. Nostalgia is kept at bay by decomposition, rot, and carnivorous consumption. Back within the gallery, the dog known as Human is spotted winding her way through a forest of human legs. Viewed only out of the corner of an eye, this triply displaced animal is real. She is simultaneously present within the installation, the screen, and the gallery space. The installation is no more complex than any other, yet, in this instance we find ourselves confronted by an unavoidable part of human nature: we breathe when we walk into an art gallery. Like viruses, we take the works into our bodies, and in turn give them data on which to thrive. We become entangled within them, we begin to know the art gallery from within, but at the border of the gallery we experience the difficulty of these multispecies relations. Huyghe has created a temporary environment for seeing and knowing across species, for feeling the earthy loam of the Anthropocene. The bees and their sculpture will be gathered up and moved on, Human will go home and curl up on the rug in front of the fire, the videos will be unplugged and stored for the next iteration, the soil at Kassel will be turned in preparation for some future engagement. The shifting space of the gallery means it is impossible to separate one’s self as a viewer from the other viewers present and from the living and nonliving objects woven throughout. In Huyghe’s hands, the sympathetic exchanges of bee, wasp, human, and dog become extended across space. What Huyghe leaves unresolved is how these multispecies relationships might extend beyond the fixed time and space of the gallery. How do they escape and become figurations for living in the Anthropocene? Being in the Anthropocene means being amidst multiple times and scales, and living in a world in which distinctions between species, nature, and human have collapsed. Tools of narrative, representation, and allegory add to this identification of the boundaries of life and death. Inside the layered worlds of Huyghe’s exhibitions are living worlds that offer opportunities for witnessing, and caring, that are also overwritten with strangeness. He reminds us that every art gallery is a biotype made up of living and dead things. The hermit crab adapts a new home within a replica of a Brâncuși sculpture; the conditions of its environment are transformed but somehow completely natural. And, somewhere on a melting ice shelf an albino penguin recalls a strange encounter. If Huyghe’s works are about the environmental conditions for survival within the Anthropocene, the unit of survival is not just modelled but enacted and made real.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 59 This tracing of aesthetics through the Anthropocene and towards intersecting units of survival points back to my earlier discussion of Spivak’s planetary understandings. Spivak suggested that we “planet-think, planet-feel.”65 Her subjects are bodies that continually encounter the demands of environmental transformation. Huyghe opens up spaces for a new view of the Anthropocene that plays out at an ontological level. These encounters with multiple points of view stop us making assumptions that all ways of knowing the world match up with our own. These are networks of behaviours, connections of ecosystems, realisations that are beyond binary Cartesian spaces of human and nature, human and animal, human and planet. And in the current climate, we have to imagine them anew. By avoiding a direct engagement with the definition of the Anthropocene, and yet modelling the various ways in which humans cannot be separated from nature, Huyghe’s works suggest a new geoaesthetics for the Anthropocene that is entangled within these very real contradictions of the globalised boundary event that is the Anthropocene.
Air The challenge of the Anthropocene is to find an adequate response that includes multiple human perspectives and relationships with the planet, that encompasses human and nonhuman ways of being within the environment, and that does not exploit nor induce greater suffering. In this book, I’m interested in artworks that meet this challenge, and do not assume a global homogenous art audience who are called to action, or pretend that everyone has the freedom (whether cultural, political, social, or economic) to act in the same way. This does not mean that the artworks discussed here are not ominous or disturbing, nor that they will not reduce us to tears, but that there is a different aesthetic imperative at play. They suggest that if humans are indeed geological at a planetary scale we are also storytellers and imagemakers at a local scale, and we need to consider how these scales are reconciled, and how to wield this force with care. The sensations of an artwork in a gallery enable new worlds to be experienced, and perhaps, for a brief second, we understand something about the scale of the climactic transformations we are within. When confronted with the immensity of the Swiss Alps, in the eighteenth century, romantic thinkers like German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Immanuel Kant, developed a concept of the sublime; a thought-practice that maintained the human as a discrete (and reasonable) being in awe of mountains and the planet and all of their mountain-ness and planet-ness. In describing the impacts of nature on his sense of being human, Schopenhauer traced through levels of the sublime until he reached “part (v),” translated in popular art texts as a “full feeling of sublime: overpowering turbulent nature. (Pleasure from beholding very violent destructive objects.)”66 Schopenhauer’s concept of the sublime grew out a sense of cultural implausibility, a question raised repeatedly by his fellow thinkers: if humans are so cultured, so knowledgeable, then how can they not comprehend the essence of the very earth they stand on? In art, the romantic sublime of Caspar David Friedrich had revealed nature to be of a scale greater than the human. In their search for objective control, these humans of the Holocene mapped a planet formed through mystic natural powers; forces greater than the human that had to be attributed to some kind of external higher power. The human was so small, and yet so clever. The concept
60 Landscapes of the Anthropocene of the sublime rendered humans separate to and removed from nature. Today, when thinking about scale and data and human presence, I remain wary of the sublime as an aesthetic frame for the Anthropocene. Yes, it is crucial to know how a storm, or a hurricane, or any nonhuman life feels; what it looks like, how it sounds while spinning on a blue marble, but my experience is different to yours. As machines chew through forests, and unearth the raw materials that feed heavy industry, the awe-inspiring scent of pollution remains. The scale rapidly shifts from one focused on the smallness of the human amidst seas of fog, to one where the fog of acid rain threatens to overpower both the human and nature. It seems the Anthropocene is possibly the right time to abandon our ongoing attachment to the generalising forces of the sublime and replace them with a concept of planetary aesthetics grounded in specificity of the order of relations, for to do so, we shift our assumed relations to nature. Writing about nature, the globe, earth, affect, sensation, weather, animals, minerals, and vegetables within the Anthropocene is only possible through a consideration of human practices dependent on technological and industrialised relations that have reconfigured, not just the surface of the planet, but also its atmosphere. The impossibility of scale and equivalence that pervade Reihana, Harry, and Huyghe’s works offers a way to for me to engage with what it means to live and breathe on this planet. The geostorying, then, is mine. This book points toward an expanded art history, one that is situated in place and yet proximate to the planet. In Staying with the Trouble Donna Haraway introduces a refrain for the Anthropocene: It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.67 To share in Haraway’s world means engaging with stories that connect this planet with others. Stories that are too big, too unconfined, and too uncontainable. Not only do stories make worlds, they also matter—they materialise. Telling a story one way can result in unimaginable joy, and telling it another way highlights profound vulnerability. Each is perhaps the telling of a similar event, or moment but each story brings a slightly different world into being. To story the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene via art history means reliving a different order of things. It is a planetary convergence that moves beyond the Earth, and exists within our imaginings of the here and now. It is hope, but the hope of dreaming and still being able to see the stars. The nascent romance within my storying of the earth is perhaps shared by Scottish artist Katie Paterson. Paterson challenges us to think about art as a series of planetary entanglements, collapsing space and time. In Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) (2007, Figure 2.5), Paterson tunes the planet by reflecting Morse code off the moon and back to earth. The story is told within Paterson’s own description: Earth-Moon-Earth (E.M.E.) radio is a form of transmission whereby messages are sent in Morse code from Earth, reflected off the surface of the Moon, and then received back on Earth. The Moon reflects only part of the information back: some is absorbed in its shadows or lost in its craters. For this work,
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Figure 2.5 Katie Paterson, Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) (2007). Disklavier Grand Piano, digital sound file, Earth–Moon–Earth book, headsets. Installation view, Cornerhouse, Manchester, 2011. Photograph © We Are Tape. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was translated into Morse code and sent to the Moon. Returning to Earth fragmented by the Moon’s surface, this historical composition was then re-translated into a new score, the gaps and absences becoming intervals and rests. The “Moon-altered” piece is played on an automated grand piano.68 Of course, the story is much more than this. Paterson employs amateur communications techniques, and aesthetic technologies to challenge poetic assumptions about the moon. Beethoven’s score written in 1801 was broken note by note into Morse code, that was invented in 1848, and then transmitted via the weak signals of E.M.E. radio communications (sometimes called “moon-bounce” and first employed in 1946). Once back on earth, the score was retranscribed, retaining the gaps in transmission: the places where the signal was lost on the pitted surface of the moon. The final step in the process is heard in the gallery when Paterson’s new “moon–altered” score plays on an automatic Yamaha Disklavier grand piano, extracting the micro from the macro, and releasing the moon, and perhaps also Beethoven, from their obligation to poetic perfection. When Galileo Galilei pointed his telescopes at the moon in 1609, he revealed the horrors of a poke-marked rather than smooth-skinned moon. The image he presented was blasphemous, too ugly to be the container of true beauty. Likewise, the sounds
62 Landscapes of the Anthropocene returned in Paterson’s Earth–Moon–Earth are distorted, information has become lost in space, trapped in craters and deflected by the mountains revealed by Galileo. The sound has been translated into silence. Walking into the gallery and hearing the first couple of notes of Earth–Moon–Earth, it is surprising how well I know the minor intervals and pauses, the nocturnal touch of the keys, and also how quickly it is apparent that something is missing. In Earth–Moon–Earth, the imperfect moon is revealed to be more than a passive satellite, it has retained some aspects of the story sent to it. Suddenly, it is absence rather than presence that tells us our place, the limits at which we can survive, and the imperfections that ground us here in this place, only partially able to comprehend the scale and intensity of celestial motion above us. In other works, Paterson has looked beyond the moon to the stars, and further, to the night sky, the scale of her works reflecting wondrous attempts to grasp at and understand the universe. It becomes evident that Paterson’s concern is with nature, not as a concept separate to the human but in its human and cosmic relationships. The blue marble gave us an image through which we could understood ourselves from offsite, from above and could look back. Many of Paterson’s works have the quality of a daydream as they return the gaze outwards. This is because Paterson reminds us that the everyday is always already magical. Paterson’s Future Library (2014–2114, Figure 2.6) builds on individual and collective imaginings of our place in the universe, extending the experience of art well beyond the usual temporalities of the gallery, or
Figure 2.6 Katie Paterson, Future Library (2014– 2114). Future Library is commissioned and produced by Bjørvika Utvikling, and managed by the Future Library Trust. Supported by the City of Oslo, Agency for Cultural Affairs and Agency for Urban Environment. Photograph © Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 63 indeed, of a lifetime. In 2014, Paterson planted a forest of 1000 trees in Nordmarka, Norway. The forest is enough to supply paper for an anthology of 100 books to be printed in 2114, 100 years from when the project began. Each year, an internationally regarded author will contribute one manuscript to be held in trust in the Oslo public library: Margaret Atwood (2014), David Mitchell (2015), Sjón (2016), Elif Shafak (2017), Han Kang (2018), and Karl Ove Knåusgard (2019) to date. The room in the library is lined with wood from the forest, and the manuscripts hidden within its walls. Future Library assumes many things: that there will be humans around to tend and harvest the trees; that the trees will live and survive weather, fire, flood, and other atmospheric events; that the custodians of the trees and the books and the library will retain an institutional memory of the project; and that we will all remember what a book is, and how to print it. Paterson’s skill is to imbue the forest with the potential words of the authors, that map our lifespan on this planet. Paterson has created a time capsule of now that will take more than a lifetime to read. I don’t want to deny that there is an exquisite act of empathy with the planet here, but it is troubled by sadness. Grief, but of a particular kind. This is where Paterson locates Future Library; in the space of appearances where it is possible to both grieve and look to the future.69 This is the framework that drives Paterson’s practice. It is a practice Donna Haraway names “staying with the trouble.”70 Future Library builds an ecology in which the imagination and fantasy of one generation are archived within the bodies of trees in anticipation of another generation who will pick up the task of grief-work in the future. Paterson examines a life measured in relations, where beings come together and share the labour of living and dreaming. Sometimes it is necessary to change scale. The object is smaller than I expect; its edges not as smooth as I imagine them to be, and the lines where the printer has laid down its layers into the bed of sand (maybe, plastic), are still visible. I can imagine its clasp around my arm, the compression as I squeeze the bracelet over my hand and then the weight as it sits on my wrist as I type. I can sense it slipping around, swinging so that its lighter thinner edges rotate to the top, and the weight of the bracelet hangs at the bottom. I imagine what it means to wear the weather on my wrist, as if to do this might connect me more closely to it, as if by wearing the weather I can understand a little more about it. I want to believe that it will. The weather is more-than-human. Being a geological force means knowing how the weather feels. In 2009, Australian artist Mitchell Whitelaw fed weather data into a 3D printer and produced a bracelet.71 The bracelet is made from one year of temperature and rainfall data gathered in the city of Canberra over the 365 days between July 2008 and June 2009. Whitelaw traced daily maximum and minimum temperatures along with rainfall for the year. He describes the temperatures as simple “hardline numbers by which we typically frame and interpret our experience of the weather.”72 Part object and part functional visualisation, the bracelet captures data made of daily experience that is not usually retained in our memory. We are concerned with what the weather might be today, but once today is over, we look to the weather tomorrow. Whitelaw gathers these rich data together and hands them to us as a personal object. Whitelaw’s Weather Bracelet (2009, Figure 2.7) compresses fine-grained data sets into a small, tactile object. Minimum and maximum temperature data have been encoded to become 365 slices that can be viewed as a calendar, stacked around the
64 Landscapes of the Anthropocene
Figure 2.7 Mitchell Whitelaw, Weather Bracelet (2009). 3D printed dataform. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
circular path of the bracelet. It is possible to feel the seasons, temperatures gradually increase to meet the extremes of summer and in this year, there is a sharp drop, a sudden cold snap, at the end of summer. Whitelaw notes that the rainfall data for 2008–2009 were harder to visualise. It does not rain much in Canberra, and when it does rain, it rains a lot, making for an uneven distribution of data.73 The weekly aggregations of rainfall data are only small piercings, drops, in the mountains of temperature. It is palpable how little rain there is. Tracing this elegant work back to earth and social systems, it is possible to see how the material and energetic realities of weather systems contribute to the ways we might be able to understand ourselves as a geological force. In the same way that the Anthropocene entangles humans with geology, this data-sculpture unpacks the thinking and making structures of Anthropocenic relationships, so that in thinking-the-planet we do so by thinking the human, nature, and the environment together. It is tempting to read the bracelet as a permanent record for each year, and imagine that each year would look and feel the same. Yet, despite its importance to our everyday, weather is not the climate. This record of the weather is now fixed in time; we can touch it, wear it, and feel its weight. These are the variations we live with. The sensations of fear, uncertainty, and wonder present within the bracelet are not those we usually associate with sun and rain. It is this dissociation that makes the weather inhuman at the same time as Whitelaw brings it closer to our bodies. We both recognise what we see and wish that we didn’t.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 65 Whitelaw’s bracelet, like Paterson’s works, defies the friction created by a binary of technological spheres and environmental systems. These artworks map a shift towards the unfamiliar caused by the Anthropocene, they embrace data (noise and information) that are in continual flux, and in these, they show how planetary aesthetics reflects the planet as a site of energetic and atmospheric exchange. Each evening moonlight casts its eerie glow over the ocean. The wind comes and goes, blowing at different strengths at different levels of the atmosphere. With increasing regularity, wildfires release carbon and other toxic particles into the atmosphere. At other times, the sun scorches the earth when the rains do not arrive as anticipated. Planetary thinking transforms the scale of nature challenging the very materials (predominantly fossil fuels and minerals as well as biological, physical, and chemical processes) from which the new earth system named the Anthropocene has been created and the imaginative structures through which it has been defined. Thinking at the level of the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) in an Anthropocene where humans are a geological force, means that humans can no longer be considered separate to nature or geology.74 Remember Goya’s duelling peasants? Serres identified the madness in Goya’s work in the inability of people to learn from their own actions. Sinking into the marsh with each movement, the fighting men have forgotten the body and its affects. Another way to challenge the assumptions of the Anthropocene is to think about the vital bodies of humans and nonhumans as figures in the landscape, when the landscape is no longer fixed nor separate to the bodies, but is instead a material ecology formed by new and unfamiliar relationships. In this chapter, I have explored how it is possible to understand this relationship in the art gallery as one not just between animate and inanimate objects, humans, and materials, but one that encompasses living things. In this chapter, I have developed Haraway’s modes of geostorying to write alongside art. Testing the geophilosophy of art in order to map a planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene, means thinking carefully about “what stories tell stories” and paying attention to where the stories themselves come from, as much as to who is telling them.75 This is not a grand schema, rather it is an attempt to challenge the dominant languages of the Anthropocene. And in particular, the goal has been to question the framings of humans and nature battling it out that continue to pervade discussions of planetary climate change. For example: For millennia, humans have behaved as rebels against a superpower we call “Nature.” In the 20th century, however, new technologies, fossil fuels, and a fast-growing population resulted in a “Great Acceleration” of our own powers. Albeit clumsily, we are taking control of Nature’s realm, from climate to DNA. We humans are becoming the dominant force for change on Earth. A long-held religious and philosophical idea—humans as the masters of planet Earth—has turned into a stark reality. What we do now already affects the planet of the year 3000 or even 50,000.76 This kind of generalised global ethos within which “we” are all either resisting or taking control of nature promotes a philosophy of shared impact, and assumes the illusion of equality of responsibility. Who are “we” anyway? The distribution of the Anthropocene and its impacts are uneven, and any individual or collective response is tempered as much by the realities of living under neoliberalism (defined as the globalised extraction of power, labour, and resources), as it is by the
66 Landscapes of the Anthropocene natural environment of global locations. Sea level rise in Moana Oceania has already resulted in saltwater intrusion in the ground water aquifers, coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef reached an unprecedented 81% of the northern reef in 2016, and air pollution across Southeast Asia kills thousands each year. To counter anxious political languages of individual or collective response, I have suggested that one approach to writing about art and nature is to directly address elemental and multispecies experiences within the art gallery. In this context, geoaesthetics is a specific bringing together of aesthetics and geology, that addresses the shifting ethics and paradigms of the planetary that includes the bodies that travel over and live within its surfaces. The language we use is important, and the stories we tell, tell the stories we hear. But stories include and exclude. To tell the story of the Anthropcene as we might approach it through art enables me to point to different ways of being and telling within the Anthropocene. In the stories I have told across this chapter, I have paid attention to Spivak’s guidelines to notice difference, and maintain the planet as a species of alterity, and Haraway’s instructions for geostories as the “patterning of possible worlds and possible times” with the hope that I can begin to materialise a planetary aesthetics of art in the Anthropocene.77 I have woven together different understandings of the relationship between humans and nature, through operations of colonisation, capital, technology, and species in order to make sense of nature in the Anthropocene “without presuming its naturalness.”78 I have paid attention to the environmental ground upon which contemporary art approaches nature, and includes within its considerations new landscapes of the human and the nonhuman, whether we are looking across the oceans, down to the soil, or up to the stars. This chapter has explored the Anthropocene by identifying ways of being with the planet at various molecular and metaphorical scales. I have thought about how humans are not a singular force, but a series of relationships defined through water, earth, and air. Landscape is formed through memory, in poetry, in images, and in the stories we told ourselves about who we are. I wonder how we continue to live in the Anthropocene, how we imagine a planet that is transforming through our very actions. Geological, social, and cultural land–ocean boundaries and borders are shifting. Perhaps this is what it means to be a geological force? Despite the fact that our entire vocabulary of nature continues to draw on certain singularities of being—penguins, people, boats, telescopes, ants—the works discussed in this chapter suggest that life never was so simple, not so mundane. The Anthropocene read through the data and memories found within this multispecies landscape brings us to an order of relations where shared environments and overlapping umwelten, point towards a different understanding of art, nature, and being on this planet.
Notes 1 Spivak, “Imperative to Re-imagine the Planet,” in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization, 335–350. 2 Spivak, “Imperative to Re-imagine the Planet,” 338. 3 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 91. 4 Spivak, Death of a Discipline, 92.
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 67 5 Epeli Hauʻofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” in Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview Through Art and Science, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge, Massachusetts. and London, England: TBA21-Academy and MIT Press, 2018), 103. Originally published in A New Oceania: Rediscovering Our Sea of Islands, ed. Eric Waddell, Vijay Naidu, and Epeli Hau’ofa (Suva: School of Social and Economic Development, The University of the South Pacific in association with Beake House 1993). 6 Hauʻofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” 103. 7 Hauʻofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” 103. 8 Pacific Islands Development Forum, “Nadi Bay Declaration on the Climate Change Crisis in the Pacific,” UN Climate Change Conference [COP23], Nadi Bay, Fiji 30 July, 2019. https://cop23.com.fj/nadi-bay-declaration-on-the-climate-change-crisis-in-the-pacific/ 9 Epeli Hauʻofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” 103. 10 Hauʻofa, “Our Sea of Islands,” 107. 11 Michelle Voyer, Genevieve Quirk, Alistair Mcilgorm, and Kamal Azmi, “Shades of Blue: What do Competing Interpretations of the Blue Economy mean for Oceans Governance?” Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 1– 22. (2018) 10.1080/ 1523908X.2018.1473153. 12 Tony Birch, “Climate Change, Recognition and Social Place-Making,” Sydney Review of Books, 3 March, 2017. https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/essay/climate-change-recognition- and-caring-for-country/ 13 Callum Clayton-Dixon, Surviving New England: A History of Aboriginal Resistance and Resilience Through the First Forty Years of the Colonial Apocalypse (Armidale: Anaiwan Language Revival Program, 2019). 14 Anne Salmond, “Voyaging Worlds,” in Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, ed. Clare McIntosh, 42– 64 (Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery, 2017), 56. 15 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 14–16. 16 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 19. 17 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 19. 18 Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 28. 19 Quoted in Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 113. 20 Susie Bioletti, Ranson Davey and Rose Peel, “ ‘Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique,’ Made in Mâcon: Investigations into the production of wallpaper,” National Gallery of Australia, Paper Conservation, 2008, https://nga.gov.au/conservation/paper/lessauv.cfm 21 Vivienne Webb, “ ‘Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique’: A Decorative Composition in Wallpaper,” in Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, ed. Clare McIntosh (Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery, 2017), 118. 22 Quoted in Rebecca Rice, “The Significance of the Dufour wallpaper,” Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Teaching Resources, 2015. www.tepapa.govt. nz/ l earn/ f or- e ducators/ t eaching- r esources/ v enice- b iennale/ l isa- r eihana- e missaries/ significance-of-dufour-wallpaper 23 Quoted in Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, “The Power to Retell Stories,” in The New Zealand at Venice Biennale Digital Learning Resource, (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, with support from Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015). www.tepapa.govt.nz/sites/default/files/ reimagining-history-lp4.pdf 24 Michaela Bear, “Infecting Venus: Gazing at Pacific History Through Lisa Reihana’s Multi- Perspectival Lens,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 19, no. 1, (2019):7–24, www.doi.org/10.1080/14434318.2019.1609316 25 Deidre Brown, “Pushing the Boat Out: Lisa Reihana on the World Scene,” in Lisa Reihana: In Pursuit of Venus, ed. Rhana Devenport and Clare McIntosh (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, 2015), 56. See also: Deidre Brown, Ngarino Ellis and Jonathan
68 Landscapes of the Anthropocene Mane-Wheoki, Does Māori Art History Matter? (Wellington: Victoria University of Wellington Press, 2014), 7. 26 Lisa Reihana and James Pinker, Artists talk, “Wintec SPARK 2015” Ramp Festival, 2015, https://vimeo.com/138022794 27 Anne Salmond, “Introduction,” in Lisa Reihana: In Pursuit of Venus, ed. Rhana Devenport and Clare McIntosh (Auckland: Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2015), 2. 28 Geoffrey Batchen, Dark Sky (Wellington: Adam Art Gallery, 2012), 8. 29 Rhana Devenport, “Emissaries: A New Pacific of the Past for Tomorrow,” in Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, ed. Clare McIntosh (Auckland, Auckland Art Gallery, 2017), 28. 30 Markus Reymann, “Becoming the Octopus,” in Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview Through Art and Science, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge, MA and London, England: TBA21-Academy and MIT Press, 2018), 9. 31 Stefanie Hessler, “Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science,” in Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview Through Art and Science (Cambridge, MA and London, England: TBA21-Academy and MIT Press, 2018), 31. 32 Hessler, “Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview,” 33. 33 Kamau Brathwaite, Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (Kingston, Jamaica: Savacou, 1974), 64. 34 Kamau Brathwaite, History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry (London: New Beacon, 1984), 10. 35 Reymann, “Becoming the Octopus,” 9. 36 Curated by Stefanie Hessler, Tidalectics, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary-Augarten, Vienna from June to November 2017. www.tba21.org/#item--tidalectics--1623 37 Newell Harry, “Newell Harry at the Kula Ring Expedition,” Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemoprary, 31 May, 2016. www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoQpo2LYFgU 38 Jill Lepore, “The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson,” The New Yorker, 19 March 2018. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/03/26/the-right-way-to-remember-rachel-carson 39 Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 7. See also: Hester Blum, “ ‘Bitter with the Salt of Continents’: Rachel Carson and Oceanic Returns,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 45, no. 1/2 (2017): 287–291. 40 Salmond, Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds, 9. 41 See Malcolm Miles, Eco-Aesthetics: Art, Literature and Architecture in a Period of Climate Change (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). T. J. Demos Decolonising Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2015). 42 Nigel Clark, Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet (London: Sage, 2011). 43 Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011). 44 Cecilia Åsberg, “Feminist Posthumanities in the Anthropocene: Forays Into The Postnatural,” Journal of Posthuman Studies 1, no. 2 (2018): 185– 204. doi:10.5325/ jpoststud.1.2.0185. 45 Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 178. 46 Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2016), 5. See also: Donna Haraway, and Nicholas Gane, “When We Have Never Been Human, What Is to Be Done? Interview with Donna Haraway,” Theory, Culture, and Society 23, no. 7–8 (2006): 135–158. 47 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 40. 48 Pierre Huyghe, Pierre Huyghe curated by Emma Lavigne, 25 September 2013–6 January 2014. Galerie Sud-Centre Pompidou, Paris, Centre Pompidou, Paris. 49 The Association of Freed Time, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo: A Journey That Wasn’t,” ArtForum International 43, Summer, (June 2005): 296– 301. See also: Susan Ballard
Landscapes of the Anthropocene 69 “Erewhon: Media, Ecology and Utopia in the Antipodes,” in Relive Media Art Histories ed. Sean Cubitt and Paul Thomas (Cambridge, MA and London, England: MIT Press, 2013). 50 The Association of Freed Time, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo,” 298. 51 The Association of Freed Time, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo,” 299. 52 L’Association des temps libérés with Angela Bulloch, Maurizio Cattelan, Liam Gillick, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Lothar Hempel, Carsten Höller, Jorge Pardo, Philippe Parreno, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Xavier Veihan. 53 Lauren Rotenberg, “The Prospects of “Freed” Time: Pierre Huyghe and L’association Des Temps Libérés,” Public Art Dialogue 3, no. 2 (2013): 189. DOI: 10.1080/ 21502552.2013.818454 54 Richard Leydier, “Pierre Huyghe: A Sentimental Journey [Interview],” Art Press 322, April (2006): 26. 55 The Association of Freed Time, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo,” 300. 56 The Association of Freed Time, “El Diario Del Fin Del Mundo,” 301. 57 Philippe Chiambaretta, Pierre Huyghe and Eric Troncy, “Living Systems,” Philippe Chiambaretta Architecte PCA- Stream, 2014. www.pca-stream.com/en/articles/living- systems-14 58 Chiambaretta, “Living Systems,” np. 59 Malm, and Hornborg, “The Geology of Mankind? A Critique of the Anthropocene Narrative,” 62–69. 60 Thom van Dooren, Eben Kirksey, Ursula Münster, “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness,” Environmental Humanities 8 no. 1 (May 2016): 1–23. https://doi.org/ 10.1215/22011919-3527695 61 Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology (San Francisco: Chandler, 1972), 489. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind Bateson employs the unit of survival to transform Darwin’s formulation of the evolution of species and question the “teleology of nature” (what Foucault would later name “the order of things”). Bateson argues that we must “correct the Darwinian unit of survival to include the environment and the interaction between organism and Environment.” Emphasising that Darwin’s evolutionary model was based on a timeline that determined that the “unit of survival was either the family line or the species or subspecies,” Bateson contends that the “unit of survival is organism plus environment.” 62 Pierre Huyghe in Esther Schipper, “Pierre Huyghe dossier,” Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin, 2013. www.estherschipper.com/artists/41-pierre-huyghe/works/ 63 See also: Susan Ballard, “New Ecological Sympathies: Thinking About Contemporary Art in the Age of Extinction,” Environmental Humanities 9, no. 2 (November 2017): 255–279. https://doi.org/10.1215/22011919-4215229 64 Quoted in Christopher Mooney, “Pierre Huyghe,” ArtReview, 17 February, (2015). https:// artreview.com/october-2013-feature-pierre-huyghe/ 65 Spivak, “World Systems and the Creole,” 102. 66 Arthur Schopenhauer, “From Distance to Beauty to the Sublime” from The World as Will and Representation , trans. E. F. J. Payne, quoted in The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age, ed. David Elliot (Sydney: Biennale of Sydney, Thames and Hudson, 2010), 39. 67 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 12. 68 See http://katiepaterson.org/portfolio/earth-moon-earth/ 69 Mackenzie Wark, “From OOO to P(OO),” Public Seminar (5 December 2015) https:// publicseminar.org/2015/12/from-ooo-to-poo/ 70 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 4. 71 Mitchell Whitelaw, “Weather Bracelet and Measuring Cup: Case studies in data sculpture,” 2012. http://mtchl.net/assets/Dataforms.pdf
70 Landscapes of the Anthropocene 2 See http://mtchl.net/weather-bracelet/ 7 73 Whitelaw, “Weather Bracelet and Measuring Cup,” 2012. 74 Kathryn Yusoff, “Geologic Life: Prehistory, Climate, Futures in the Anthropocene,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 31 (April, 2013): 779–795. 75 Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin,” Environmental Humanities 6 (2015): 159–165. 76 Paul Crutzen and Christian Schwägerl, “Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos,” Yale Environment 360, 24 January, 2011. https://e360.yale.edu/features/living_in_ the_anthropocene_toward_a_new_global_ethos 77 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 31. 78 Noel Castree, Making Sense of Nature (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013).
3 New Taxonomies
Animal This chapter is concerned with the various structures of living and dying that we are experiencing within the Anthropocene. Donna Haraway opens her book When Species Meet with an extended passage meditating on the shifting deaths of the various organisms that form the being that is her body. Keeping her attention to the planetary, she writes: I love the fact that human genomes can be found in only about 10 percent of all the cells that occupy the mundane space I call my body; the other 90 percent of the cells are filled with the genomes of bacteria, fungi, protists, and such, some of which play in a symphony necessary to my being alive at all, and some of which are hitching a ride and doing the rest of me, of us, no harm.1 Hers is a collective body alive with relationships and spaces where the boundaries of the body are fluid. Once upon a time to be alive meant being defined by a category, a species. In Haraway’s umwelt to be alive is defined not only by the categories of thinking, but also, moving, breathing, influencing; having relations. To be alive is vital: to have agency, motion, energy. In order to get on with the business of being in this world, Haraway identifies the natural environments these mundane spaces we call bodies need.2 To follow Haraway’s lead means imagining a new kind of more- than-animal body formed through collective and unequal relations.3 The point that Haraway makes is for the continued presence and resistance of a material body to species categorisations; a practice she understands as a process of “ongoing alertness to otherness-in-relation.”4 This is difficult enough. The collective body aligns with other beings (animal, vegetable, and mineral) who are also struggling with the contemporary situation in which they find themselves. This then is a new taxonomy of life on the planet as defined by the Anthropocene: life measured in relations, where beings come together and share the labour of living. The process takes the work, movement, of animals, of plants, of minerals, of nature (all nature) seriously. Haraway offers a working definition of species that connects to the Latin word specere (to look, to behold) which refers to the Enlightenment definition of species as a specific or a class of individuals with the same characteristics.5 To look is also to observe and classify. It is these practices of classification that distinguished the human from all other matter on the planet. The division and definition of species is a relatively new concept in the human history of our planet. Each year approximately
72 New Taxonomies 15,000 new species are “discovered,” yet other species go extinct faster than they are identified. It is a simple equation: before extinction there must be species to go extinct. As much as it is a very real catastrophe for the planet, species extinction is also a problem of definition. The problem of the definition and separation of species within the animal kingdom, and the minerals, vegetables, fungi, and bacteria that made up other biological kingdoms sits within this Western definition of the natural sciences. To talk about species shifts the divisions of nature. In the early eighteenth century, the basis of modern taxonomy was comprehensively established by Swedish botanist and zoologist Carolus Linnaeus.6 Linnaeus established a practice of binomial naming through which all matter could be both grouped together and distinguished apart. Gaps in the record indicated more specimens needed to be found, (rather than errors in the system). For the natural scientists who followed Linnaeus, species were present at the very moment that their absence was made visible. In the spaces of art and science, the desire to document and collect was most famously illustrated by German zoologist Ernst Haeckel in Art Forms of Nature (1904). Haeckel demonstrated that scientists required quantities of species and specimens in order to establish consistency. Haeckel’s images show how the wonder of the world is found in the identification of differences within repetition. For example, lots of crabs have the same features which mean they are of the same type, crabs. Finches came later.7 By the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin’s articulation of the origin of species made a lot of sense, and the clear division of animal, mineral, and vegetable defined the curation of natural history museums. Animals, minerals and vegetables could be grouped and classified, but anomalies continued to appear and it was hard to know how to address them. Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty has identified, how in the contemporary contexts of anthropocenic climate change, distinctions between natural history and human history have collapsed.8 The separation of the sciences from the humanities is embodied in the discrete disciplinary worlds of natural history and human history. Chakrabarty outlines how the discipline of human history maintains numerous positions on the relationship between humans and the environment; ranging from an idealist view “where we peer into Nature … and find only ourselves” to a social and materialist perspective where the environment is an ever present, yet passive backdrop to human activity.9 These approaches break down when natural and human history, of necessity, become intertwined. Climate change, extinction, and loss of biodiversity are cultural as much as scientific events, leaving a tension in both natural histories and human histories. A further shift occurs when environmental historians describe the human being as a biological agent entangled in the environment. Rachel Carson was the first, and in the early 1990s, Australian ecologist Val Plumwood advocated for a transformation in the way we thought the ecological self: nature and human together.10 Plumwood’s work drew together the disciplines of human and natural history. She challenged the separation of the human from the natural world, questioned the image of humans deeply embedded within the extended self of some kind of mystical Mothership, and raised the need for a less instrumental relationship with nature. Plumwood’s suggestion was that a feminist understanding of nature could shift beyond both essentialist identification and egoist separation. Her ecological self was both a scientist and an artist, able to record and document both the discovery and extinction of species. Plumwood showed how extinction and loss of biodiversity are cultural
New Taxonomies 73 as much as scientific events, leaving a tension in both natural histories and human histories: the need to address the “impossible fact that humans are both ‘in’ and ‘of’ nature, both are and are not the outside.”11 The trauma of the Anthropocene is that humans (“we”) are faced with the problem of our own extinction. We are becoming fossil. Thinking about art within the Anthropocene means looking to artists whose work questions these fundamental categories and address animals, minerals, and vegetables as entangled rather than discrete parts of the shared biosphere. The works discussed in this chapter present a new kind of taxonomy that moves beyond the animal, mineral, and vegetable of Haeckel, Darwin, and Linnaeus, and turns towards felt connections that highlight the interrelated contexts of planetary multispecies being. The larger question that frames this discussion is: if humans are a geological force, and separations between the human, other animals, minerals, and vegetables are no longer practical, then, does a concept of nature remain useful? Or, more precisely, are animal, vegetable, and mineral now different kinds of figurations to think with, work with, and breathe alongside? This chapter considers the planetary dimensions of the animal, vegetable, and mineral in the Anthropocene. Although they overlap, I take each in turn. After visiting the Subantarctic Auckland Islands in 1989, New Zealand artist Bill Hammond embarked on a series of paintings documenting a world populated by birdhuman figures collectively musing on our shared futures. In hundreds of images, Hammond’s birdhumans soar, float, and disappear across Oceanic horizon lines, whilst softly and kindly keeping a wary eye on the planet. In the painting The Fall of Icarus (1995, Figure 3.1), these traces of birdhuman desire pervade a dripping and luminescent emerald space.12 Resting in a line of trees to the left of the canvas are a group of birdhuman creatures staring out to sea. Hammond has filled the rest of the canvas with the distant blue-green horizon, and relics of the bodies and skins of those who have attempted this journey before. Icarus’ future death is predicted within the image as a glowing white streak down the canvas that falls and then ripples in the distant sea. The birdhumans present do not step in to stop the madness. They remain poised but melancholy witnesses grounded through their grasp on the tree branches around them. Hammond uses their sorrow to remove the boundaries between culture and nature, human and bird, witness and agent. Reflecting on his own writing about birds, Australian author Joshua Lobb says that “The stories I tell here are still told by a human and are about humans, but … telling human stories and asking the question ‘What might a bird’s story look like?’ are not mutually exclusive activities.”13 Like the human witnesses in Lobb’s novel The Flight of Birds, Hammond’s birdhumans describe an order of relations within the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene. They imagine how the future might be made differently. Hammond’s zoomorphic reminder of the severity of human impacts on other species does more than narrate the imaginings of fantastical hybrid beings; he engages a critical vitalist and allegorical mode where in this instance, it is Icarus, the humanbird, whose technology fails him, and the planet that welcomes him back. Hammond’s works point toward an order of relations where “the natural and the social have become so inextricably bound together that they now comprise a single ‘hybrid environment’.”14 The relationships mapped in Hammond’s paintings remind
74 New Taxonomies
Figure 3.1 Bill Hammond, The Fall of Icarus (after Bruegel) (1995). Acrylic on canvas, 200 × 216 cm, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, purchased 1996. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
me of an earlier twist in the histories of human and bird life in New Zealand. His hybrid environments talk to the transformations of society and the transformations of nature that occurred during a time of mass extinction; a time of unfathomable change when the air was very different. New Zealand is a country settled, colonised, and formed from multiple and more- than-human species relationships.15 The impact of the geological force named human is not only found in significant changes to the climate, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, but also in mass extinctions. Ghosts are everywhere. They are found in caves, rivers, and on the side of the road. They are the ghosts of people and birds. Biocultural ghosts, as field philosopher Thom van Dooren might call them.16 Writing about extinctions on Hawaii, another island within Moana Oceania, van Dooren writes: Ours is a time of mass extinction, a time of ongoing colonisation of diverse human and nonhuman lives. But it is also a time that holds the promise of many fragile forms of decolonisation and hopes for a lasting environmental justice. Here, the work of holding open the future and responsibly inheriting the past requires new forms of attentiveness to biocultural diversities and their many ghosts.17
New Taxonomies 75 It is worth being attentive. The species extinctions in New Zealand were the result of dramatic environmental and ecological changes caused by humans. Unlike Australia, its closest neighbour with 60,000 years of continuous living human culture, New Zealand “was the last large habitable land mass to be colonised by humans.”18 The colonisation of New Zealand by invasive land mammals is marked late in the history of the planet by two major periods of arrival. Around 1250–1300, Polynesian explorers arrived from across the Pacific, and in the early eighteenth century, European colonialists and their companion animals began to arrive in droves. In order to tame the land for agricultural production, huge fires were lit, and a carnivorous force of imported rats, stoats, cats, weasels, ferrets, and possums, consumed any of the birdlife that could escape the flames. As a result, between 1840 and 1880 over 50 percent of New Zealand’s bird life was killed. What made this extinction event particularly unique is that it has aspects of both “the continental extinctions (involving mainly large species), and of island extinctions (where small species were the main casualties.)”19 Extinction marked the futures of these islands. In the late eighteenth century, debates raged about how and why these mass extinction events were occurring, and most importantly, when they might end.20 Despite their differences, researchers on the ground such as Julius von Haast and James Hector, and collectors such as Walter Lawry Buller, battled for recognition with the scientific powerhouses in London.21 As ornithologist Richard Holdaway says, “New Zealand was one of the first places where debate over extinction was part of public and scientific life.”22 Much of the discussion was staged along the lines of colonial authority; bird extinctions were tangled with social and cultural ecologies of empire, power, resources, and access.23 Questions over whether human or environmental transformation were to blame for the disappearance of the giant flightless moa and its smaller companions seemed for the moment unanswerable and appropriate strategies for caring for, or protecting nature, were not easy to grasp. In particular, the settler-colonial trade in New Zealand birds played a significant part in the definitions of extinction that themselves presented ongoing fuel for Darwin’s own explorations in other parts of the world. The bird carcasses that were traded around the globe were organisms at a double remove from their environments, yet they enabled extraordinary understandings of environmental ecology to develop. The extinction of the huia, Heteralocha acutirostris (a bird unique not only for its monogamous social life but its diamorphic beak structure that allowed male and female to feed together and not threaten each other’s spaces), presented a particular case study. The potential extinction of the huia was recognised as early as the 1880s when Māori kaumātua (elders) in the Manawatu and Wairarapa placed a rāhui (ban) on the huia which prohibited the killing of the birds. Yet, as a gesture of respect on a royal visit in 1901, the Prince of York was presented with a huia tail feather on his arrival at Tama-te-Kapua marae in Rotorua.24 The Prince placed the feather in his hatband, setting off a devastating fashion trend back in England. By 1907, the huia were extinct. There is no debate; human fashion and ritual irrevocably transformed the environment. This unnatural selection found a precursor in Darwin’s theories of evolution. In his writing, Darwin had connected the human desire to use adornment for beautification to the activities of the bowerbird and the bird-of-paradise; his observation of the bird’s apparently compulsive behaviour led to his formulation of the second maxim of evolution: sexual selection.25 Sexual selection too dominated the social ecologies of a repressed Victorian society. Lawyer and
76 New Taxonomies naturalist Walter Lawry Buller was alert to the decline and with astonishing determination set about distributing thousands of bird carcasses.26 Although just a portion of the huge trade in New Zealand birds, Buller’s work resulted in a global distribution of specimens: 310 were purchased by the Colonial Museum (now the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) in 1871.27 The American Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Museum of Natural History each hold intact collections of over 500 of Buller’s birds.28 In the enlarged edition of Buller’s A History of the Birds of New Zealand (1880), John G. Keulemans’ drawings offer stunning documentation of these individual species isolated from their habitat. Rather than quantify numbers, they make Bateson’s unit of survival visible. Isolated on a clean non-polluted page, a pair of birds cling to a small selection of foliage; a sample of the organism plus a sample of the environment inside a gaping white abyss.29 Buller and Keulemans were resigned to what they believed as an unutterable truth and their desire for documentation overruled the consideration of individual deaths. Hammond, ever alert to the fate of the birdpeople, presents the extinction of the huia as a post-apocalyptic scene of horror in Buller’s Table Cloth (1994, Figure 3.2). Hammond’s work is much more than an illustration of the trauma. On a loose canvas, itself both a skin and shroud, Hammond presents a colonial interior littered with carcasses. From our perch high on the wall, we witness Buller’s kitchen laboratory. On the left is a completed reliquary housing a pair of huia, and spread on the bench are numerous large bound and flayed specimens. The activity has been momentarily interrupted, a glass of wine rests on a side table alongside yet another skin; mimicking a shawl that has been hastily thrown from someone’s shoulders.
Figure 3.2 Bill Hammond, Buller’s Table Cloth (1994). Acrylic on canvas, 168 × 167 cm, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
New Taxonomies 77 If transformed with colour, the feathered grisaille floorboards would be dripping red. Hammond’s work is a picture of interspecies domestic violence that anticipates future atrocities. Unable to prevent the destruction of an earlier time, Hammond documents a colonial mortuary that is at once a newly settled home for one species and a site of death for the other. For Australian environmental historian Deborah Bird Rose, thinking about extinction without collapsing into despair involved turning to the categories of recuperation rather than restoration.30 Rose framed her work with two questions: What is the fate of the unloved? What does it mean to write in a time of extermination and extinctions? New Zealand born, Australian artist Hayden Fowler offers one answer by mapping the sorrow of New Zealand’s bird extinctions onto his own body. In 2007, Fowler staged the installation and performance event Call of the Wild (2007, Figure 3.3). In a sanitised street-front boutique, and under the gaze of the passing public, Fowler had a pair of huia on straggly branches tattooed on his back. The choreography of the event took three days, during which human skin was irreversibly transformed into a new organic form. The performance was neither about human or bird suffering, nor was it some kind of Frankenstein-ian reanimation of the bird (as this would presume some gift of life held by the artist). Instead, by offering his own body as a site for mourning and remembrance, Fowler held out a lifeline to the huia. For Fowler, this was not a simple process of remembering a loss, it was one in which the trace of dead bodies could be given a new life. The blank white surface of the environment, the sterile white clothing and custom furniture highlight the flesh of the canvas upon which the tattoo artist etched his lines. On live human skin, in a purified white tank, the huia found a way through the cracks. Fowler’s work suggests that we reconsider the position of the animal within extinction, and instead embody an ethics that counters restorative modes. This ethics is embodied, and vital. It develops the second mode of working identified by Rose, what she calls “recuperative work”, work that begins from the conviction that: there is no former time/space of wholeness to which we might return or which we might resurrect for ourselves … Nor is there a posited future wholeness which may yet save us. Rather, the work of recuperation seeks glimpses of illumination, and aims toward engagement and disclosure. The method works as an alternative both to methods of closure or suspicion and to methods of proposed salvation.31 Caring is difficult. It has a cost. Amidst structured relations and control are the very different reasons that species continue to live and die on this planet. The Anthropocene continually reminds us that the persistence of life, any life, may be due to human effort: the effort to stay away and leave things alone, as much as the effort to intervene. Fowler takes care to avoid restorative work. Instead, in his recuperative practice, he directly engages with the ghosts of extinction whilst creating worlds in which humans form kin with birds, rats, dingoes, and wolves. In the video installation New World Order (2013, Figure 3.4), Fowler examines the process of making kin, by excluding humans.32 Here, animals form communities from the bits and pieces humans have left behind. Fowler documents a new kind of natureculture, a unit of survival that includes technology. On screen is a dull grey environment inhabited by pedigree mutations (chickens who have been bred by human amateurs as much as for scientific need).
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Figure 3.3 Hayden Fowler, Call of the Wild i (2007). Mounted chromogenic photograph, dimensions variable, performance documentation. Photograph Sarah Smuts- Kennedy. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Fowler has gifted these exotic birds new techno-voices that they use to call to one another. They arrive on screen alone or in small groups. These are seductive birds co-produced by both nature and culture. But there is no call and response. Just a call, repeated. Mediated and transformed into technological ringtones, the chickens pierce the environment with their search for one another. Fowler’s constructed environment conjures an immediate response from viewers; in the constant activity, the air is full of hope. The work documents a new world order layered with colonial, social, and economic relationships. Occupying a desolate universe where, very literally, nature has taken on the voice of the machine, Fowler suggests that the initial moment of the Anthropocene includes habitation rather than isolation. Nature is revealed to be a human construct. The humans who established this sanctuary (if it ever was one) have long gone and the bush has taken on the patina of the petrified concrete that used to mark the spectacular skyscrapers of the past. The trees are the twisted and rusting steel of towers that appear no longer fit for life, and yet the whole environment is alive. Fowler highlights how an Anthropocenic unit of survival is not fixed in time and space. Fowler’s birds evolve together with their environment as a constantly transforming ecosystem. Fowler does not cast judgment on the spaces occupied by the
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Figure 3.4 Hayden Fowler, New World Order (production still ii) (2013). Colour pigment print on cotton rag art paper, 54 × 75 cm, unique edition. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
chickens, nor on their ritual behaviours. They offer instead their own ways of telling the story. Discussions of species (and their extinction) stretch beyond the usual comfort zones of art history, and contribute to the specificity and activity of what it means to be human. Fowler’s Anthropocene (2011, Figure 3.5) is a temporary construction of a post-earth settler island where Fowler lived with lab rats; a multispecies cohabitation.33 Installed in a large industrial gallery space, Anthropocene is a 6 metre round floating island containing a small group of geodesic caves, a fetid pond, grass, and rocks. The whole environment is built on a platform that is lifted off the floor of the gallery, so that from afar it appears to be a recently arrived (life) capsule. During the opening hours of the gallery, Fowler and a small colony of lab rats occupy the island. The space is under 24-hour video surveillance and anyone who doesn’t want to approach too closely can view the inside of the cave on CCTV monitors set a modest distance away. On screen, we witness Fowler as he sleeps, eats canned food, and fends off any rats that come too near. They all seem adapted to some kind of post- technological catastrophe. The island grass is musty but not desolate, and there seems to be a water source nearby. The white plaster of the cave environment has the feel that soon it will grow moss and blend into the island environment. Emerging from the cave at random times, the animal skin-clad Fowler does not communicate across the distances of his world; his silence and isolation are in stark contrast to the everyday comings and goings of the gallery space.
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Figure 3.5 Hayden Fowler, Anthropocene (2011). Mixed-media installation, 5 × 6.5 × 6.5 metres. Photograph by Joy Lai. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Anthropocene is situated in some ever-after time, a reconfigured and dynamic refuge inhabited by exotic fauna, including a future-human. It is not clear if at one time this environment was part of a city, a new urban habitat, or something else not made by humans at all. Fowler imagines the future of this catastrophic space as a new world island where technology, humans, lab rats, and nature are bound together in full view of a startled audience. Anthropocene is not just an encounter formed from things, or objects; this is an assemblage of animals, minerals, and vegetables. Like any good science fiction, Anthropocene is a sympathetic ecology of matter as flow. Perhaps in this space of island-becoming-refuge, Fowler allows us to stay alert to the kinds of behaviours and forms of communication we need to adopt to confront future species extinctions. Despite its depleted state, this corner of a future world is currently living. It is neither romantic nor nostalgic, but it is breathing. There is always a need for fresh air. It is disturbed and remade by the lost bodies of a new kind of cohabitation. Fowler and his island rats are survivors, but without bees to pollinate the grass, and rain to fill the pond, their small green eco-sanctuary may soon rot. Already some children have begun to throw sticks at the island inhabitants. Fowler shows that animals can indeed adapt to new Anthropocenic environments, but the environments themselves also need to adapt. Understandings of multispecies relationships counter deterministic and restorative models of the world. Anthropocene is an ethical pointer towards the recuperation of a future nature. Understanding the mass extinctions of many diverse species raises questions about the definitions of species but also the uncomfortable way in which humans are facing
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Figure 3.6 Stella Brennan, The Middle Landscape (2009). Mixed- media installation, Photograph by Sam Harnett. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Trish Clark Gallery, Auckland.
our own extinction. For what are the facts of species extinction? When is the animal or plant extinct? Does becoming geological equate to becoming extinct? In many of the populist narratives of the Anthropocene, extinction seems to be an inevitability. Should the extinction countdown begin at that moment when a species is still roaming the planet, but we can foresee its future absence? In the installation The Middle Landscape (2009, Figure 3.6), New Zealand artist Stella Brennan presents humans with one last chance to lose themselves within a familiar definition of nature. In three brightly coloured tents, small events take place. In the first, an auger bores into the ground, heaving and shuddering, the earth is displaced, and new boundary fences are established. To watch it we lie on our stomachs, sensing the vibrations through the length of our bodies. In the second tent is a list of the names given to every living kākāpō (Every Living Kākāpō, 2009), girls on one side, boys on the other: Bella, Flossy, Hinemoa, Boomer, Sirocco, and their friends are etched into the thin nylon walls.34 And in the third, a melancholic video plays. A subtitled narrator guides us through constructed nature as witnessed on a journey across the Taranaki region. At first, it is a travel monologue familiar to anyone who has driven by car through the lush North Island bush. The curve of the lens mimics the arch of the trees and reinforces the circular separation of space into either protected nature or friable land by the surveyors who used the mountain itself as a compass. Brennan narrates the disappearance of New Zealand’s birdlife at the same time as offering humans a protective shell from which we can understand the kinds of
82 New Taxonomies sacrifices that are necessary for the continuation of our evolutionary story. Nylon walls do not prevent their contents from leaking. Sounds merge in the open space and images flicker in the half-light. These tents are not sanctuary islands or rafts. The aesthetic of the nature documentary, the hushed voice over, and the lingering close up enable Brennan to highlight how the romantic desire to preserve nature via the order of things contributed to a total transformation of the ecology around us. The grainy rescreening of the footage via medical, televisual, and video screens distances it, giving a microscopic insect eye view. The way to see all is to become very very small. In considering birds, humans, plants, snails, and the occasional presence of ghosts, Thom van Dooren evokes the overlapping and unravelling ways of life and death that extinction carries.35 Van Dooren names these entanglements of extinction, “flight ways.” Asking what extinction means, and “what forms of life and death are possible in its shadow” he reminds us that humans cannot be set apart from the rest of the living world.36 That here, amidst these flight ways, perhaps more than anywhere else we have a responsibility to a shared world. The order of things has led us towards a distressed conservation ethics, where powerlessness and grief are countered by a determination to “do something.” We build eco-sanctuaries and ship flightless birds around the country in airplanes: “moving birds in an unraveling world.”37 These activities contribute hope; they suggest that by participating in nature, if only in a very small way, we can defend nature against greater harm. And yet, the world is not so straightforward. Until very recently, the dominant context of the Anthropocene has been capital, understood through the global exchange of resources. Gayatri Spivak called for the displacement of these economic models of globalisation by planetarity. Planetarity forces ideas of the planet into the future. Likewise, the Anthropocene forces a reading of the planet through extinction. The scientists of the Anthropocene continue to step back in time and find marks in the geological record—the point at which we released plutonium into the atmosphere, the point at which we burnt so much coal that no one could breathe in the cities for months on end, the point at which we begin to striate the land, controlling it through fire and agriculture. The point at which the birds died. These are all markers of human relationships with the planet. It is not any one in particular that indicates the Anthropocene, but their collectivity that does it: the collective force of a species that has constructed a new environment that is only temporarily suitable for habitation.
Vegetable The problem with stepping back in time, is that sometimes it also means looking forward, with a fear of what might come next. Towards the end of World War II, an economic depression seemed inevitable. Forty-four nations gathered in July 1944 at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire in the United States. Their goal was to establish the United Nations International Monetary Fund, and the model of open financial markets that continues to dominate global economics and politics today. Despite the worldwide economic and social shutdowns that occurred in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 virus, the Bretton Woods model of open markets remains influential in the regulation of global flows of capital and exchange. Photographs of the events in 1944 show negotiators sitting at tables covered with wrinkled white tablecloths, their nameplates aligned for the cameras, surrounded by a sea of flags. On the last day, for
New Taxonomies 83 the plenary session and signing of the agreements, the signatories sit close together on spindly white shaker chairs. Men in dark suits wield the pens, and at a small table in the middle four women record everything. There are no flowers anywhere. The rise and fall of global trade is not specific to the twentieth century. In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic was gripped by both the bubonic plague and a futures market based in the trade of flower bulbs for extraordinary sums of money. Now employed as a cautionary tale in both global and local histories of economics, from 1608 to 1638 “Tulip Mania” gripped the nation until the entire market collapsed suddenly overnight.38 In 1637, Semper Augustus a “broken” tulip bulb infected by a virus that would cause mutations of crimson and white stripes (and occasionally a frilled top), was trading hands for as much as a house in Amsterdam. As visual indicators of the market bubble, paintings and drawings were essential commodities, for an image could pause the seasonal cycle of flower growth and present a way to possess a permanent bouquet of Semper Augustus. Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder includes Semper Augustus in his painting of an impossible bouquet, Flowers in a Glass Vase (1614). Roses, cyclamen, anemone, and tulips are clustered in close companionship within a transparent vase. These are flowers that would never bloom or grow together. Anticipating both death and transformation, a caterpillar inches its way up the stem of a droopy tulip, a few petals have fallen, and a fly hovers near a wilted rose.39 Only 30 years later, at the end of the craze, Judith Leyster illustrated a single bloom of Semper Augustus (1643) for a Haarlem Tulip book belonging to the dealer known as Cos, a visual record of the costs, price, and weight of tulip exchange.40 One hundred years later in Rachel Ruysch’s Flowers in a Glass Vase with Tulip (1716), the allegory of the Semper Augustus lives on.41 Ruysch captures a mass of flowers before they are in full bloom, the tightly bunched vase is tilted towards the viewer, everything is on the verge of bursting out of the canvas and into life. Butterflies, bugs, and bees swarm the bouquet. Tulip mania was an economic bubble, and it had burst. In 1968, with the opening of Verenigde Bloemenveilingen Aalsmeer (now Royal FloraHolland Aalsmeer), the world’s largest global flower market in one of the world’s largest buildings, in Aalsmeer near Amsterdam in the Netherlands, flowers once again began to take their seat at the global negotiation table. In 2015, American photographer Taryn Simon undertook a detailed study of the flowers that had accompanied the signing of global economic accords, treaties, decrees, and contracts. She began with the absence of flowers at Bretton Woods.42 Simon’s previous works include the empirical photographic projects An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007) and Contraband (2010). Contraband is a collection of 1075 photographs of items detains or seized from passengers, taken in situ over one week at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site, and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. In An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Simon documents the unexpected resonances of material objects, repressed experiences and unseen relationships across American culture. Each photograph is printed large (often over 1.5 metres wide) and accompanied by a (sometimes lengthy) didactic panel. In cataloguing these unseen or peripheral fragments of society, Simon continually returns to nature as the site of political representations of power. For example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room John F. Kennedy International Airport
84 New Taxonomies Queens, New York (2007), shows an overflowing bin containing a cornucopia of rotting fruit, plant samples, and vegetables. The caption reads: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, New York African cane rats infested with maggots, African yams (dioscorea), Andean potatoes, Bangladeshi cucurbit plants, bush meat, cherimoya fruit, curry leaves (murraya), dried orange peels, fresh eggs, giant African snail, impala skull cap, jackfruit seeds, June plum, kola nuts, mango, okra, passion fruit, pig nose, pig mouths, pork, raw poultry (chicken), South American pig head, South American tree tomatoes, South Asian lime infected with citrus canker, sugar cane (poaceae), uncooked meats, unidentified sub tropical plant in soil. All items in the photograph were seized from the baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States.43 Simon’s textual accompaniments form as much a part of the work as the photographs. Each individual animal, vegetable, and mineral is given agency within the photograph and the text. And yet, the description makes the image more, not less, ambiguous. It extends the story behind each element, each seed, fruit, egg, peel, and plant has been chosen by someone to be transported, and then confiscated. The global capital and exchange networks of the Anthropocene linger somewhere in the dark recesses of the images. For the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015, Figures 3.7 and 3.8), Simon reverse engineers historical events and their documentary images a step further. Paperwork and the Will of Capital annotates the ceremonies, artefacts, and cultures of international power by focusing on the witnessing presence of plants and flowers. Beginning with archival research, Simon revisits the treaties and agreements signed by the 44 signatories to the Bretton Woods Agreement between 1968 (the opening of Royal FloraHolland Aalsmeer) and 2014. They are the countries that have created the economic, corporate and political climate by which we know the world today. Simon traces networks of power through international and national trade agreements, contracts, treaties, and decrees. These historical encounters mark epochal shifts in the geopolitics of the planet. Simon selected 36 key photographs and then worked with Daniel Atha, a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, to formally identify the plants that were present at each occasion. The plants represent the staging of power, the “set design” for each ceremony.44 Simon then purchased 4000 flowers of the identified specimens from Royal FloraHolland Aalsmeer in order to restage the signing agreements with only the flowers present. Lastly, using the preservation techniques of natural history, the plants were pressed and sealed in 12 stylised concrete flower presses, rendered in the gallery as monolithic plinths. The final resting place for the flowers is hermetically sealed. Like the now extinct Semper Augustus preserved in Leyster’s drawing, they are no longer able to listen to the human conversations happening around them. Inside Simon’s plinth, all 36 agreements press up against each other. It must be difficult to breathe amidst the cacophony of all their different agendas.
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Figure 3.7 Taryn Simon, Agreement between Switzerland and the United States of America for Cooperation to Facilitate the Implementation of FATCA. Bern, Switzerland, February 14, 2013, Press III, Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015). Bird’s- eye view. Pigmented concrete press, dried plant specimens, archival inkjet prints, text on herbarium paper, and steel brace, 114.1 × 55.9 × 76.2 cm. © Taryn Simon, reproduced courtesy Gagosian.
Flowers have always stood in for an inability to say anything—“don’t say it with words say it with flowers.” Yet, in Simon’s photographs, the plants are connected back to a broader material ecology. The global flower market is representative of a consumer society that maintains a particular controlled aesthetic irrespective of the diversity of nature. Devoid of sentiment, Simon’s photographs abstract the moment of witnessing down to its bare essentials. Taking colour swatches from the originals (four black and white photographs are rendered in greyscale), Simon set up a new still life from the identified plants. The final print is enlarged to human scale (where the plants take the place of the absent human body) and framed in a custom mahogany frame, that mimics the highly polished wood of the convention centre table. Embedded in each frame is a lengthy caption detailing the event, and the officials present. The caption of the final photograph in the series reads: Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia. Ministry of interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014.
86 New Taxonomies Australian Immigration minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian interior minister Sar Kheng signed an agreement to transfer Australian refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Australia’s refugee settlement arrangements were negotiated in secrecy, and publicly condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). There were concerns that Australia’s agreement with Cambodia set “a disturbing precedent” that undermined the integrity of the international system for sharing responsibility for refugees.45 To date, only three refugees have been relocated from Nauru to Cambodia at a cost of 55 million dollars. The outsourcing of international refugee responsibilities for money is watched by four unlikely plants—Anthurium andraeanum from the Netherlands, a Dendrobium hybrid from Thailand, x Mokara from Venezuela, and the Rosa x hybrida from Kenya—all themselves refugees of some kind. More than once, in Paperwork and the Will of Capital, corporate global politics press up against moments of post-colonial restitution. In 2008, minister of Treaty of Waitangi negotiations Dr. Michael Cullen, Māori Affairs minister Parekura Horomia, and the associate ministers in charge of Treaty of Waitangi negotiations on behalf of the New Zealand government signed the largest of a series of Treaty settlements with a collective of Central North Island Iwi (tribes), transferring ownership of over 400 million dollars worth of Crown forest land to the joint ownership of the Iwi. Present in the room were four plants. Three—the Cymbidium hybrid, the Monstera deliciosa, and the Anthurium andraeanuum—are photographed by Simon in a tall black pot in front of colour swatches of the ministerial beige and brown of the Beehive (New Zealand’s parliament house) banquet hall. Missing from Simon’s photograph is the fourth plant, the Chrysanthemum, Spider Mum, a common plant in cottage gardens in New Zealand, but prohibited from importation into America and so unable to be photographed in situ. Simon also excludes the political colours of the Labour minister’s red rose pinned to the lapel of his pin-striped suit. Simon’s caption names the signatories to the act, as well as the location, and a short observation of the agreement (see Figure 3.8). After 20 years of negotiation between the Iwi collective and the Crown, the “Treelords” settlement was signed. It was named in the media after the earlier Sealords Treaty settlement (September 1992) in which Māori were allocated $150 million dollars to purchase half of the commercial fishing entity Sealord, plus rights to new species included under a complex fisheries quota system.46 The “Treelords” deal returned ownership of Crown Forests and included financial redress for the loss of rights over the Crown Forests, and the payment of rentals that had accumulated on the land. Simon adds the witnessing presence of plants. Together, the Cymbidium hybrid, the Monstera deliciosa, the Anthurium andraeanuum, and the Spider mum watch a shift in colonial relationships as the British order of things gives way to an order of relations in which Crown negotiate with Iwi, and the forests become capital in another exchange; one designed to reverse 150 years of broken promises. Plants travel. The flowers in Simon’s images don’t just stand in for the complex cultural imaginary of capital and trade, they contain it within their bodies. Like the Semper Augustus, they only exist because of the global market. Before being photographed by Simon, they have been grown in countries around the world, shipped to and aggregated at Aalsmeer, then shipped again to New York. Simon’s point is that her images do not
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Figure 3.8 Taryn Simon, Central North Island Forests Land Collective Settlement Act 2008 (Treelords). Beehive Banquet Hall, Wellington, New Zealand, June 25, 2008, Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015). Archival inkjet print and text on archival herbarium paper in mahogany frame, 215.9 × 186.1 × 70 cm. Edition of 3 + 2APs © Taryn Simon, reproduced courtesy Gagosian.
document the first time flowers have contributed to trade and exchange practices. She notes that one of her touchstones for the project was the impossible bouquets of the seventeenth century. These were “flowers that could never grow together, in nature, in the same place and at the same time,” Simon explains, “Or in my interpretation, that could never be grown in the place of the meeting, at the time of the meeting.”47 In these photographs of global exchange, the plants are grouped together so that time and space are compressed into a single image. Projects like these speak to the challenges of living on a planet where the Anthropocene is not some imagined future time, but one where the impacts of global climate transformation are felt on a daily basis. Geographical and seasonal limitations are transforming in the Anthropocene, now it is much more than plants that are out of time and out of place. Simon’s work reminds us that the Anthropocene is a problem worth encountering; in Haraway’s words, staying with.48
88 New Taxonomies One way to imagine the complexity of these relations, and their ongoing futures, is to locate ourselves in an environment where the removal of fixed ecological boundaries enables multispecies and more-than-human relationships to thrive. However, when the discussion turns to extinction, there remains a need to redefine “life.” Think about cultural theorist Roland Barthes’ argument that a photograph has the ability to take something out of time’s continuum.49 Simon’s photographs document flowers as both decorations and silent witnesses at one remove from their historical time scale. Once they have completed their photographic labour, they are entombed within vaults that mark their final resting places. Vaults are time capsules, designed to be read by future generations, designed to preserve not just memories of a previous time and place (as a photograph does) but the actual artefact as well. There are discontinuities, things happen differently. Spatial and temporal scales operate at different speeds and spaces. This tension between scales of time and living in the plant world is captured within the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen.50 A quick Google search of references to the vault brings up apocalyptic stories of permafrost melt, difficulties of fail-safe storage, doomsday scenarios, and the challenge of “natural or man-made disasters.”51 The narratives surrounding the vault are allegories for plant worlds. The vault is another instance of global futures speculation, where seeds contain the means to generate life in some kind of future-now which points to the precarious act of survival. In her essay “How to Grow Liveable Worlds,” plant anthropologist and geographer Natasha Myers suggests that one strategy for living together in the Anthropocene is to “stage plant/people conspiracies to keep this planet liveable and breathable.”52 Conspiracy, for Myers, points beyond the apocalyptic metaphors that tend to dominate discussions of environmental transformation. She encourages us to resist the lure of apocalypse “like your life depends on it.”53 To consider plants within the Anthropocene, their agency, the stories they have to tell, and the knowledge they have to share, also means challenging fixed human notions of agency, emotion, and behaviour with nonhuman ways of being in the world. For political philosopher Jane Bennett, this means understanding the resemblances between human and nonhuman ways of acting and being, whilst simultaneously avoiding a conflation of human essentialism with nature.54 The challenge, as Bennett expresses it, is in the constitution of life and what it means to live together—plant, human, earthworm. As already discussed, Donna Haraway extends this cohabitation further when she opens When Species Meet with a description of her collective body of bacteria, fungi, protists etcetera.55 Thinking collectively and strategically alongside plants, earthworms, bacteria, fungi, and protists means considering the make-up of the air breathed by the 2000-year-old kauri (Agathis australis) Tāne Mahuta, or the water that flows under a desert, or what a Monstera deliciosa leaf might have witnessed from the table of a new trade deal. Art writing is about looking, looking is about an ethico-aesthetics of thought, and thinking alongside artworks is about activating a planetary aesthetics. Spivak’s imperative to “planet-think” and “planet-feel” means we can no longer divide the world into self and other, subject and object, human, and nonhuman. To take Spivak’s planetarity seriously means committing to a practice of art writing that includes relationships between birds, ants, kauri, Monstera, imaginary penguins, humans, and machines; they all contribute to art’s histories. Spivak extends this to systems of being and living.56 Planet thought opens up the taxonomy of naming alterity—Mother, nation,
New Taxonomies 89 nature, treaty. Alterity means that we cannot separate ourselves from the planet or “nature,” we are contained, twisted, within it. Spivak reminds us that this is an act of imagination: “If we imagine ourselves as planetary subjects rather than global agents, planetary creatures rather than global entities, alterity remains underived from us.”57 Planetary aesthetics imagines multispecies relationships across the spheres of the animal, vegetable, and mineral. A poesis. It used to be easy to draw distinctions between animals, plants, and rocks: as if animals and plants were alive, and rocks were not. Since the sixteenth century, the spaces between living and non-living things have become less clear, yet the boundaries between animal and plant tend to be maintained via definitions of consciousness and sociability. And now this division is also beginning to blur. The economic ecologies of the Matsuke mushroom led Anna Tsing to declare that “human nature is an interspecies relationship.”58 In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Tsing tells a series of connected stories between people, plants, and environments. Her people are multiple—Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong, and other Southeast Asian refugees join US Vietnam war veterans and undocumented Latin American labourers in the US Pacific Northwest—and the mushroom itself is elusive. Her project traces human activity as it intersects with, and forms “polyphonic assemblages” with, plants that are equally multiple.59 Both plants and people inhabit environments that are transforming. Tsing’s work is a close study of how certain groups of people and certain groups of plants are living together on the Planet. It is critically important because it involves placing the human “in its proper nonhuman context.”60 Now as species of all kinds migrate due to climate change, and the complexity of plant communication fills journals and books, taxonomic categories seem to slip out of usefulness.61 But, as I have suggested, these categories of being have always been slippery. Taxonomy and cohabitation within the Anthropocene involve consideration of the living and non- living, known and unknown, human and nonhuman. The aesthetic and political limits of the Anthropocene are tied to the embrace of Western rationalism and its central tenant of taxonomical difference. Elizabeth Grosz extends the practice of re-imagining taxonomy when she discusses the potential of mapping the material–cultural contexts of geography and the environment in art practice. She asks: How does the work of art bring about sensations, not sensations of what we know and recognize, but of what is unknown, unexperienced, traces not of the past but of the future, not of the human and its recognized features, but of the inhuman?62 A framing of the world through a hierarchical sequence of animal, mineral, and vegetable was perhaps appropriate for the Holocene but is no longer feasible on a planet inscribed by mass extinction, colonisation, and inequity. Over time, there has been a movement from the sensory world of the human to a different kind of accountancy, where humanity is understood as one species amongst many. Planetary alterity also moves beyond systems of exchange and bounded definitions of nature. This means that planetary aesthetics offers a framework in which traces of the future and the inhuman, movement and relationship, are core. Sensing an inhuman future is central to New Zealand artist Dane Mitchell’s multipart installation Post hoc (2019, Figures 3.9 and 3.10) situated in the Palazzina Canonica
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Figure 3.9 Dane Mitchell, Post hoc (2019). Palazzina Canonica, New Zealand Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
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Figure 3.10 Dane Mitchell, Post hoc (2019). Palazzina Canonica, New Zealand Pavilion, 58th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
(the former headquarters of Istituto di Scienze Marine, an oceanographic research institution) facing Riva dei Sette Martiri, in Venice. Mitchell extends a relationship with the nonhuman towards a planetary understanding of aesthetics that entangles plants, extinction, hope, recall, memory, narration, networks, and climate change within the work of a library. The installation has three visible components: a large anechoic chamber; an empty library slowly filling with a glacier of paper and words; and a collection of seven 6- metre- tall Wi-Fi towers disguised as pine trees, and distributed across 5 sites in Venice. Each element of the installation shares a simultaneous networked system of information and data. Each recounts a list, seemingly without end, of things that have disappeared from the planet.
92 New Taxonomies The hub of Post hoc is a large trapezoidal anechoic chamber, which despite its obvious size and weight seems to have recently arrived with the tide. It perches on the sandy floor, no audible sound gets in or out and yet snaking out of its side is a server feed, a lifeline that will survive even the acqua alta.63 The chamber contains the list of lists that global environmental change forces us to confront. Mitchell’s point is that we all too easily accept these losses. What if we re-performed them? What if by uttering their names we could return them to the world, briefly in the voices of seven whispering trees? And, after this? The first phase of the utterance is housed upstairs in the original library of the Istituto di Scienze Marine that Mitchell has emptied for the installation. Here, a waterfall of paper descends from a printer at what we once used to call “glacial” speed. Across the planet glaciers are retreating at speeds we cannot fathom; they are glaciers that now move at the opposite of glacial speed. But here in the library, the glacier of loss is growing, the pages concertina across the floor as more and more names and layers of lost things are added to the room: extinct languages, extinct birds, vanished sounds, outmoded words, old cell phone models, superseded camera models, extinct trees, obsolete medical terms, ghost towns, former nations, vanished, obsolete, defunct, destroyed, missing. There is (of course) a list in here, in the room and narrated by the trees, of lost glaciers. Here, the metaphors of geological change come to the fore. It is not possible to know how many of these losses are the result of the geological force of humans on the planet. The mournful point is that perhaps the earth system has fundamentally shifted phases, we have lost too much, too much even for a single person assisted by a great technological system to name. Mitchell does not include Wikipedia’s list of the last living kākāpo—his focus on the birds we have lost, the camera bodies, the hurricane names that have been retired, the fossilised algae who have left no living bodies, feudal states, Semper Augustus. Mitchell shows that the distinction between being alive and dead, being a human and a geological force, is not so simple. The faux trees that simultaneously recite the list via their own individual Wi-Fi networks at five different sites in Venice, were manufactured in China, and globally distributed as a pleasant aesthetic disguise for cell phone transmission towers. Media and aesthetics come together in a conversation with human and earth systems. In the whispered voice of a tree, its soggy roots buried deep in the waters of Venice, losses great and small are heard before the scirocco winds catch them and blow them off across the lagoon. Mitchell’s work exudes a cosmic communication. Venice is sinking at the same time that the uneven tides in the lagoon are rising. It seems inevitable that soon Venice itself will be added to Mitchell’s list of lists. In 2019, the final week of the Venice Biennale was also a week of unprecedented acqua alta. As the tides rose in the gallery, an enormous pine was violently toppled by the winds, ending up resting in a gentle embrace with the courtyard pseudo-pine Wi-Fi tower (Figure 3.10). The toppled tree had an uncanny resemblance to Robert Smithson’s Dead Tree (1969), rebuilt and entombed inside the galleries not so far from here in 2015. Smithson’s tree had initially been created for the Prospect 69 exhibition at the Dusseldorf Kunsthalle, and then destroyed. The resurrected Smithson Dead Tree has 12 mirrors trapped in its still leafy branches and its roots cut from the ground. There were marks on the gallery walls, where the tree had been maneuvered inside. Outside, the tree now surrounding
New Taxonomies 93 Mitchell’s Post hoc in Venice is not yet dead, it is has fallen in a gentle embrace around Mitchell’s work. Both trees listen to the broadcasts of the lists of lists. What it means to lose something, or someone, varies from person to person, and in scale. There are over three million entries in Mitchell’s database. All entered and checked, by humans, all confirmed as losses. Mitchell and Simon construct and document socially, culturally, and technologically engineered environments where plants witness the human impact on the planetary environment. Neither Simon nor Mitchell state that their works are explicitly about climate change, or the Anthropocene. Instead, each push at the data limits of what a single human being can comprehend. Both introduce a potential model for a politics of co-habitation and witnessing that brings together practices of mourning and hope; an order of relations that will outlast the order of things. Shifts in scale are necessitated by approaching new thresholds, new alignments, and new proximities. This is perhaps the point. The Anthropocene understood as a series of operations of power, capital, colonisation, and ethics, is not equivalent with climate change, nor does it consistently name the Anthropos at its centre. Instead, the Anthropocene is a problematic concept, that rather than shy away from, demands insistently that we confront it.
Mineral The Anthropocene presents a scalar challenge to the narrative of humans becoming a geological force. Scales imply hierarchies and effect what we see. Until very recently, to be living was to be organic, and in relation with other organic and nonorganic things. One reason for the movement away from this definition can be attributed to the work of quantum physicist Karen Barad who also shifted art world considerations of representational politics and matter. In particular, Barad’s explanations of quantum entanglement caught our imagination, as she connected the agental understandings of Niels Bohr with Donna Haraway’s work in feminist science studies and spiralled this out to “reconfigurings of spacetimemattering.”64 Barad advocates for a practice of iterative response that engages with the details of an environment, text, or work. It is an Anthropocenic practice of care that extends the human into the structures of the universe. Alongside this, she encourages us to see the operations of power and agency, living and nonliving, and death, at scale. Look for all the images in this passage: The inanimate is always being shoved to the side, as if it is too far removed from the human to matter, but that which we call inanimate is still very much bodily and lively. It may seem perverse, unimportant, or meaningless, to attribute memory to an inanimate happening, but that speaks of a failure of imagination that gets stuck at the threshold of one of the most stubborn of all dualisms—the animate/inanimate dualism—that stops animacy cold in its tracks, leaving rocks, molecules, particles, and other inorganic entities on the other side of death, of the side of those who are denied even the ability to die, despite the fact that particles have finite lifetimes. Who gets to count as one who has the ability to die? A rock, a river, a cloud, the atmosphere, the earth? How about viruses, brittlestars and other boundary-crossers? What about the fate of carbon and phosphorous? And if these concerns sound silly, why?65
94 New Taxonomies The first taxonomical crisis of the Anthropocene was life and death. The second distinguished between the animal and the plant. The third classification of all earthy things established by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae was regnum lapideum, the mineral kingdom. In contemporary science, the taxonomy of the biological kingdoms (animal and vegetable) still retain some aspects of Linnaeus’ system, however, the kingdom of minerals has been replaced by a complex hierarchy of particles, atoms, and molecules. This is further unsettled by ontologies in which land demonstrates its sentience, a body of water is a legal entity, and rocks are experienced “as a semiotic agent.”66 Anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli explains that Linnaeus’ system of classification maintains an order of things that moves from life and death to the living and the nonliving (the relationship of the animal and the mineral.)67 The initiator of all classification is the human but what if agency and intention are not characteristics solely of the living? If humans are a geological force, does this mean that by becoming geological we are displacing the minerals that currently occupy the space of the “geos, the inorganic, the inanimate.”?68 In this new world we have built, what are the geological lives of the Anthropocene? Extractive industries and agribusiness have completely reformulated our understandings of natural resources. Likewise, data mining and the infrastructures of cartography have transformed what is understood as “the cloud.”69 The study of geology was once about systematising understanding of the planet. With this came prejudices and approaches that cannot be separated from politics. The study of geology emerged alongside colonisation, alongside death. Povinelli explains that we now hold three stances on the relationships between the biosphere and the geosphere. Firstly, geos is understood to represent the living planetary organism as a whole, often named Gaia. Secondly, geos names the nonliving part of the planet.70 These rocks, known collectively as geology, might contain the fossilised remains of biological life forms, and evidence of climactic change but they do so by marking periods of death.71 Geologists who study these stratigraphic shifts are leading the search for the markers of the Anthropocene: golden spikes of mass death that document previous geological and environmental transformations, as Zalasiewicz writes: “To be useful to geologists, the Anthropocene must be thought of not just as history, but as rock— strata deposited during the Anthropocene that geologists can see and map.”72 Rocks, stones, and minerals contain marks made by humans. The third definition of the geos that Povinelli sees at play in the Anthropocene is one that exceeds life and death and, unlike the previous two states—the living earth and its nonliving geology—includes within its boundaries, the human.73 This incommensurate state is the Anthropocene, and it has its own operations of power. Identifying a multispecies agency within the Anthropocene means that it is not possible to maintain the separation of the categories of animal, mineral, and vegetable from the human social and economic forces that have combined to create the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene. The evidence of convergence is all around us. Australian artist Mikala Dwyer offers ways that we might, of necessity, dismantle the hierarchies of the Anthropocene and occupy sites of multispecies being that include this final step: becoming geological. When confronted with Dwyer’s installation The Garden of Half-life (2014, Figure 3.11) at the University of Sydney in 2014, I encountered a problem with how to apprehend the geological world. Was I witnessing a geos of the first kind: an earth-garden of living and dying? Or the second kind: a collection of geological fragments, dead markers of distant time? Organised in a strip
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Figure 3.11 Mikala Dwyer, The Garden of Half- life (2014). Installation view. University of Sydney Art Gallery (15 September 2014–17 January 2015). Photograph by Alejandra Canales. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
96 New Taxonomies down the centre of a long gallery, The Garden of Half-Life re-energises an archive of geological remnants formed from collections in the School of Geosciences and the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney through a maze of drawers, shelves, perspex boxes, and mirrored cases. On top of the cases are geological specimens, rocks, minerals, and crystals, interwoven with videos of microscopic dust particles or staircases traveling into deep underground caves. Distributed throughout are seven transparent acrylic props that if placed together would form one of Piet Hein’s endlessly confounding mathematical Soma cubes. Everything here has been released from an obedience to the order of things. As well as “An entire drawer, labeled ‘Minerals, Broken Hill’, # ZA/L6” and “A box of fluorescent minerals, from drawer #120,” the installation includes a fragment from the Henbury meteorite that fell to earth in central Australia 4700 years ago. The meteorite itself is estimated to be more than 4.5 billion years old, older than the earth. The iron fragment sits amidst other rocks, minerals, fossils, and gleanings from this world, all bathed in an ultraviolet glow. The glow comes from warming lamps, which I imagine encourage hatching. I start to wonder if here, in this sprawling vital system, is in fact where we might find Povinelli’s third geos: the geoaesthetics of the Anthropocene. Dwyer, by undoing the usual stories of geological and biological chronology and juxtaposing geological time “with the relatively short time-span of a human-consciousness,” has reimagined the living earth and its nonliving geology.74 The Garden of Half-Life has abandoned the coherence of the order of things, making possible a reimagining of species relationships to include the mineral. Dwyer has sidestepped the usual representational stories humans tell of their relationships with planetary bodies, rocks and stones, and replaced them with light, time, and density.75 The shifting scales of the props, the endless possible combinations of the Soma cube, the lights, and colours challenge the boundaries of matter. When writing about the role of materials in the contemporary world, sociologist Gary Genosko extends a new materialist philosophical approach, and, with a nod to French philosopher Felix Guattari’s formulations of ecosophy, suggests that the planetary is about turning to “the new fundamental elements of a contested planet.”76 Genosko calls these the “new” four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Of course, they are not new at all, but reframing our understanding of them inside the Anthropocene is critical. At the centre of The Garden of Half-Life is an attention to these elements and their planetary and material transformations: a concern with vital and perceptive presence that can never be reduced to mechanical relations between bodies. Dwyer describes how light and colour are a way of “creating different densities in the atmosphere.”77 Mirrors lift the elements off the ground. Videos add a digital flicker. Other refracting surfaces disorientate the rectangle of the room. And the rocks levitate through both invisible forces and visible materiality. Dwyer says “The rocks are very lively matter … The rocks in a sense are not like archaeological specimens, they are where archaeology is dug up from.”78 Until the 1890s, sandstone—a sedimentary rock consisting of compacted sand that is predominately quartz grains—was the dominant building medium for European settlers in Sydney. In a hot land, these new migrants carved buildings out of the geos. Dwyer’s An Apparition of a Subtraction (2010, Figures 3.12 and 3.13) is a collection of sandstone “zeros” carved from blocks that had been quarried from Cockatoo Island in the middle of Sydney Harbour and left over in the construction of her parent’s house. The zeros stand in a circle with other domesticated objects. At unexpected
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Figure 3.12 Mikala Dwyer, An Apparition of a Subtraction (2010). Installation view. 17th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2010. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
moments, the work produces a smoky apparition. At others, the room is filled with the dense noise of chipping and scraping. The sound was recorded from within the stone as it was carved. Dwyer describes how she used sound to refill the rocks and in the process manufacture a solid from air. I had this idea, that I could create a sonic object from the negative space of the stone, by layering the sound of the chipping so many times that it became dense again. And that by directing the sound into one spot through speaker cones, it would be possible to form an object that the ghosts could manifest through; a sort of summoning through the sound becoming matter again.79 Unlike the open Soma cube, the circle is a tight form of geometry, a closed system that holds together disparate objects. Dwyer says there is also something about the circle that “invokes a threshold.”80 Standing together in their circle, Dwyer’s assortment of stones and objects might also be an illustration of Bruno Latour’s imagined “parliament of things” in which rocks begin to speak, and assert their agency.81 Humans in this parliament do not only speak on their own behalf, but speak alongside nonhuman entities who share the entangled space of this network of being. Latour asks: where or what are the boundaries of representation? In answer, Dwyer fuses sound, smoke, and stone into a metamorphic séance that conjours the vitality of the rock. The second half of the work is buried within a long tunnel left over from the heavy industry of
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Figure 3.13 Mikala Dwyer, An Apparition of a Subtraction (2010). Installation view. 17th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2010. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
New Taxonomies 99 convict labour. Disguised within the arcane bowels of the Island the sound of chipping stone is only audible in passing. Inside the cave illuminated by a glowing red light are the sounds of bodies rustling and water dripping. Puffs of fog or smoke, indicate life. By splitting An Apparition of a Subtraction across two locations, Dwyer includes the working practice of minerals, mining, as a live activity: stone plus steam mark the site of a rock–human assemblage. These rocks animate the ghosts of the human bodies that previously lived here and hewed the stone that now waits in the circle. Fossils are once again growing in the rocks. Dwyer offers both a negative and a positive within the work itself. One is calm controlled visible, the other hidden, violent. In 2002, British artist Steve McQueen employed the same ambiguous approach to noise and silence, visibility and invisibility, in his video work Western Deep. Opening in claustrophobic near darkness, McQueen’s video guides the viewer down into the deepest gold mine in the world, the TauTona mine near Johannesburg in South Africa.82 Three and a half kilometres down, the dominant presence is sound—a constant grinding motion where bodies and minerals are somehow brought together— interrupted by bright flashes of light that indicate life. McQueen uses film the same way that Dwyer buries her work within the physical space of Cockatoo Island. Shot on hand-held Super-8 film Western Deep mediates the geoaesthetics of the environment through difficult to hear sound and impossible to see images. McQueen’s later work Gravesend (2007) takes this a step further. Following the gruelling daily practice of extracting the mineral ore coltan in the Congo, McQueen shadows the mine workers. The camera is both there—it is our eyes—and not there; we don’t want to know what it is that we see. The coltan is also present in the body of the digital camera as well, in the firing of its beautifully insulated: microcapacitors. No longer marked by a sonic descent, here, the precious mineral is visibly scraped from the surface of the earth. There is nothing cheap to this nature, energy, or labour.83 Tracing the dull black matter to its source, McQueen brings attention to the global economy of this “miracle mineral that doesn’t overheat.”84 The story alternates between the economic and social, the human and the mineral.85 The film ends with the sun setting behind the smokestacks. Despite how it sounds, McQueen is not following a documentary impulse, instead an allegorical fiction of the histories of human–mineral relationships is performed. From these mines emerge the raw materials that feed the political and social environment of “Integrated World Capitalism.”86 McQueen tells us this story through the darkness of the film, and the graininess of the surfaces, that add up to the mineral crust of the image. Video and film are completely dependent on these minerals. As Jussi Parikka says, “to go underground is an analytical but also an ethico-esthetic choice.”87 This is mineral watching mineral, media watching media. As I have already discussed, the planetary-scale of the Anthropocene risks presenting a simplistic view of human agency that neglects to differentiate between diverse social and cultural groups and experiences. Rather than a unified geological force, what if humans were as fragmented, fractured, and crystalline as the rocks themselves? It is already apparent that the plurality of humanity has uneven and unequal impacts on geological, atmospheric, climactic, and ecological spheres. Revisiting definitions of the mineral comes hand in hand with a more nuanced definition of the Anthropocene. As sociologist Bronislaw Szersynski notes “it is important to realise that the truth of the Anthropocene is less about what humanity is doing, than the traces that humanity will leave behind.”88 Or as historian Steve Mentz says, “To be human in the twenty-first century entails recognising the wounds our species has carved into geologic strata.”89
100 New Taxonomies These works by Dwyer and McQueen foreground the illusion we keep telling ourselves: that the mineral core of the planet is some kind of stable base that humans rely on. Or as geographer Nigel Clark puts it, one “audacious proposal … is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.”90 It is audacious, because to restrict or limit the reliance of human capital on fossilised hydrocarbons is in itself “an experimental geologic intervention.”91 Extraction relies on the belief that the fossil fuels will not run out, that the lithium, coltan, and other magical minerals that make our computers go are there forever. It is some kind of invisible tryst. Even if we adopted the framing of the Capitalocene for a moment we would find coal at its molten core. There is another way we could approach these works, via the geos of the human within the Anthropocene. Povinelli turns to rocks in Australia: specifically the rock formation known as Two Women Sitting Down, on Country in the Northern Territory, home to and ancestor of the Karrabing people. She tells the story of the impact of extractive resource mining on the local geos, in which a multinational company OM Holdings Ltd. who had (according to court documents) attempted to take the “blood” of the ancestral figures, and in the end was found guilty of desecration. Povinelli looks at the legal and cultural shifts between definitions of life and nonlife that are at the core of the legal case that the Karrabing people made on the rock’s behalf, showing how considerations of geontology reconfigure the Holocene structures of biopower. Povinelli says that the challenge in the case of Two Women Sitting Down is the tension between these stories of real life—life and nonlife—and in particular the potentiality of nonlife (the rocks) to challenge how we privilege certain ways of knowing over others. What role, she says, do geological worlds play, “as they emerge from a low background hum, to making a demand on the political order?”92 This is more than an appeal to the cultural meanings of the rocks, “geology and meterology are devouring their companion discipline, biology.”93 When Dwyer turns to the rocks and adds to them the questions of geopower, she is also asking: “what do the rocks contribute?” Some answers are found in the way that humans respond to, and live with, stone. Dwyer says, “Stone here, for example, is very loaded. It has its own consciousness but it’s made up of particles and densities. It has its own memory, its own geological memory, and I’m working in dialogue with that.”94 In this, Dwyer’s works beckon to nonhuman as well as human participants. By including the Henbury meteorite in Garden of Half-life, Dwyer challenges what we can know. The half-life of the meteorite is already greater than the life of this planet. At a mineral scale, a new taxonomy of the Anthropocene breaks down into different strata and different temporalities, not a single deep time, but a multitude, a pond rather than a parliament. In seeking to bring together the poetry of geology with the reading of the rocks themselves, geologist Michael Welland writes “Geologists tell stories which are scrupulously tested to see if they are stories about real life.”95 Dwyer’s understanding of geology suggests the same; not a colonising all-knowing theory of “life” but one where small moments of breakdown, cracks in the rocks, allow plants to take seed, and bodies to grow. Dwyer’s works suggests the necessity of a new species taxonomy for the Anthropocene; one that might rescale human perception to the space and time of the mineral. Dwyer’s fascination with working at the material edge of things, is further extended in the sculptural work The Hollows (2014, Figure 3.14). Five super-sized glistening chrysalides formed from heated sheets of industrial plastic hang suspended in an industrial space. When no-one else is looking, it is possible for me to insert my
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Figure 3.14 Mikala Dwyer, The Hollows (2014). Installation view. 19th Biennale of Sydney, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, 2014. Photograph by Ivan Buljan. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
head or arm within the surfaces of the work, to try to trace their shapes deep within my body. Dwyer has sculpted air into huge material forms at once floating and weighted by gravity. The Hollows are charged forms full of action. Dwyer says “An idea of a hollow work containing a void is misleading. A void is forever being filled with our imaginings and projections.”96 Standing in front of the work, I begin to make notes of the allegorical suggestions the work raises. The Hollows seem to be formed from crystal quartz, or dense and ancient Arctic ice. These transparent chrysalises make visible the horror of the caterpillar turning into the moth, and the unspoken sludge in- between. The air held within them is old, alternately hard and susceptible to melting, at any moment they may release stories from previous millennia. The Hollows is an anticipatory allegory for the Anthropocene, gradually and by degree we witness the individual transformed, it is just that in this case the individual is a metaphor for the planet itself. The planet, formed from the plastic and heat of coal-fired capitalism. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many of the rocks on Cockatoo Island and those themselves imprisoned in the geological vaults of the university bore witness to unspeakable human atrocities. If there is to be a new taxonomy of life and death suitable for the Anthropocene, a level of care needs to be enacted. As a speculative practice, there is a great risk of attributing “liveness” to everything. And I’m not suggesting that this is useful for a framing of the Anthropocene, especially when much of what we have to address is death. Dwyer points us towards a speculative and aesthetic ethics grounded in nature, but formed from a new kind of nature that is not
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102 New Taxonomies pre-existent, or predetermined. It is nature within a living and dynamic social world. She says: “The rocks trigger our memories into trying to think about time, beyond the existence of the earth, back to where everything is gas and dust.”97 This expanded aesthetic of matter suggests that it is possible to read the rocks and their relations for what they can tell us about our current world. We listen to the chipping of the rocks in Dwyer’s Apparition of a Subtraction, and feel the breath of The Hollows, we turn away in the darkness as McQueen shows us images impossible to see, and the pain of the rocks is somewhat different to our own. Although equally fragile, the rocks can withstand heat and can adapt at a molecular level. Dwyer and McQueen remind us that we are yet to see if humans can do the same. Nature persists. Despite transformations in perception that point toward the ecological as a form of interconnection, nature— as a singular category, a way of being and seeing—persists. The call of the Anthropocene means that shifting our understanding of species whether animal, vegetable or mineral, not just as a frame for looking and mapping, but as yet another flawed means of differentiation is somewhat critical. In the early 1960s, Claude Levi-Strauss marvelled at the way humans shared a planet with beings with whom, he declared, we cannot communicate.98 Today, we know that this simply is not true, or more precisely this inability to communicate is not drawn on species lines. The Anthropocene has generated problems of scale, at once molecular and planetary. Boundaries of communication and perception are intimately tied to an understanding of shifts in the entire earth system. And, this is perhaps the last point to be made in this chapter: to imagine a new taxonomy for the Anthropocene, by engaging with artworks that also attempt the same, is to think about communication. Hayden Fowler enlists technologies to move across ecological spaces; his narratives of habitation include nature, humans, animals, machines, technologies, and atmospheres and prevent the separation of life into neat packages. A new taxonomy for the planet shifts our concerns from nature as a construct, towards a set of planetary relationships focused on difference within, rather than difference from. Spivak’s planetarity suggests an undivided natural space, one in which we are all (unequally) implicated. Planetary time is slow but we measure it through more than glaciers and ice cores, through more than surface movements: we measure it through the tone of the earth, through the voices of the animals, vegetables, and minerals as they speak to each other and to us. The new taxonomies of the Anthropocene and attendant concerns for species extinction are not about human or animal rights, but are about dramatic environmental transformation formed by those who claim those rights. The right to burn land, the right to fence land, and the right to consume. In The Natural Contract, Michel Serres argued that the relationship of humans to nature is one of two sides at war: “At stake is the Earth in its totality, and humanity, collectively. Global history enters nature; global nature enters history: this is something utterly new in philosophy.”99 It’s a particularly Western viewpoint, but his core argument that humans move away from anthropomorphic understandings, and towards a more equal contract with nature is one potential starting point for a consideration of when species meet in contemporary art.100 The works discussed across this chapter present an ethico-aesthetic located at that moment when species meet, the moment when life is reconfigured. Breathing with plants introduces a potential model for a politics of witnessing, and working with minerals involves exchange commodities, mining, and
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New Taxonomies 103 a potential return to notions of vitality. Animal, vegetable, and mineral bring together practices of mourning and hope; an order of relations that will outlast the order of things. These are the meeting points at which companion animals, vegetables, and minerals (no longer defined by life and death, species, organic or nonorganic, human or nonhuman, biology or humanity) test what is no longer acceptable: the boundaries of survival. These are love songs across the time and space of the cosmos.
Notes 1 Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 4. 2 Haraway, When Species Meet, 17. 3 Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (Autumn 1988): 575–599. 4 Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Others (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003), 17. 5 Haraway, When Species Meet, 17. 6 Paul Gillen and Devleena Ghosh, Colonialism and Modernity (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2007), 143–144. Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific, 167. 7 Kathleen Donohue, Darwin’s Finches: Readings in the Evolution of a Scientific Paradigm (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011), 53–54. 8 Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses,” 201. 9 Croce quoted in Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History,” 204. 10 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (London: Penguin, 2020). Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (London and New York: Taylor and Francis, 2002). See also: Thom van Dooren “Genetic Conservation in a Climate of Loss: Thinking with Val Plumwood,” Australian Humanities Review 46 (May 2009), http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/ 2009/05/01/genetic-conservation-in-a-climate-of-loss-thinking-with-val-plumwood/. 11 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham and New York: Duke University Press, 2010), 114. 12 See my discussion of this and some of the other works discussed in this chapter in Susan Ballard, “Signal Eight Times: Nature, Catastrophic Extinction Events and Contemporary Art,” Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, 7 Risk (August 2015): 70–94. 13 Joshua Lobb, The Flight of Birds: A Novel in Twelve Stories (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2019), 280. 14 Clark, Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet, 9. 15 Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, 4. 16 Thom van Dooren, “Life at the Edge of Extinction: Spectral Crows, Haunted Landscapes and the Environmental Humanities,” Humanities Australia, AAH Hancock Lecture, (April 2017): 9–22 www.humanities.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/AAH-Hancock-Lect- VanDooren-2013.pdf. 17 Van Dooren, “Life at the Edge of Extinction.” 18 Richard Holdaway, “Extinctions—Extinctions in the Human Era,” Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13 July, 2012, www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/extinctions/page-3. 19 Richard Holdaway, “Extinctions—New Zealand Extinctions since Human Arrival,” Te Ara The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13 July, 2012, www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/ extinctions/page-4. 20 Simon Thode, “Bones and Words in 1870s New Zealand: The Moa-hunter Debate Through Actor Networks,” British Society for the History of Science, 42, no. 2 (2009): 225–244. 21 Phillip Armstrong, “Moa Citings,” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 45 (2010): 325–339. Walter L. Buller, “A History of the Birds of New Zealand,” (London,
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104 New Taxonomies 1888), The New Zealand Electronic Text Collection, Victoria University of Wellington Library, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-BulBird.html. 22 Holdaway, “Extinctions—Extinctions in the Human Era.” 23 In London, Richard Owen (1879) examined a single thigh bone sent from New Zealand and in declaring it to be dinornis introduced the British public to both the moa and the reality of recent extinction events. Richard Owen, “Memoirs on the Extinct Wingless Birds of New Zealand, with an Appendix on those of England, Australia, Newfoundland, Mauritius, and Rodriguez,” (1879), University of Texas Libraries, www.lib.utexas.edu/ books/nzbirds/. 24 The Māori Affairs Department, Te Ao Hou: The New World, Royal Tour special Number, 2, no. 2 (1953) http://teaohou.natlib.govt.nz/journals/teaohou/issue/Mao06TeA/c16. html. Barry Olsen, trans., “Te Pipiwharauroa” in He Kupu Whakamarama, no. 41, 1 July 1901. Translation available: http://hekupuwhakamarama.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/ te-pipiwharauroa-41.html. 25 David Rothenberg, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution (London: Bloomsbury, 2011). 26 Like any sincere colonialist Buller believed that he was witnessing the last days of not just New Zealand’s native flora and fauna, but also its people. Alexander Turnbull Library, “Buller’s Birds” ref: PUBL-0134-063, www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/bullers-birds. 27 J. A. Bartle and Alan J. D. Tennyson, “History of Walter Buller’s Collections of New Zealand Birds,” Tuhinga 20 (2009): 81–136. Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, http:// collections.tepapa.govt.nz/publication/3159. 28 Philip J. Pauly, “Samuel Butler and his Darwinian Critics,” Victorian Studies 25, no. 2 (Winter 1982): 163. 29 Buller, “A History of the Birds of New Zealand.” 30 Deborah Bird Rose, Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2004), 24. 31 Rose, Reports from a Wild Country, 24. 32 Haraway, When Species Meet. 33 Exhibited in Bec Dean and Lizzie Muller, (curators), Awfully Wonderful: Science Fiction in Contemporary Art (Sydney: Performance Space, 2011). 34 See the full list here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kakapo. 35 Thom van Dooren, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). 36 Van Dooren, Flight Ways, 147. 37 Thom van Dooren, “Moving Birds: Translocation in an Unraveling World,” Los Angeles Review of Books, 7 August, 2019. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/moving-birds- translocation-in-an-unraveling-world/. 38 Mike Dash, Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coverted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused (London: Hachette, 2001). 39 Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Flowers in a Glass Vase (1614). Oil on copper, 26 × 20.5 cm. The National Gallery, London. 40 Judith Leyster, Semper Augustus (1643) in The Tulip Book of Judith Leyster. Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands. 41 Rachel Ruysch, Flowers in a Glass Vase with a Tulip (1716). Oil on canvas, 46.5 × 36 cm. The National Gallery, London. 42 In 2019, Royal FloraHolland posted a turnover of 4.8 billion Euro distributing approximately 20 million flowers per day. In March 2020, Reuters reported that over 85 percent of that month’s crop of over of one billion plants and flowers at Royal FloraHolland were destined to be composted. Flowers are once again disappearing from the negotiating tables of global wealth and power, replaced with downloadable Zoom backgrounds of fields of tulips and hydrangeas.
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New Taxonomies 105 43 Taryn Simon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room John F. Kennedy International Airport Queens, New York (2007). Photograph, inkjet print on paper, 948 × 1140 × 45 cm. Tate Gallery, Britain. 44 Nicholas Kulish in Taryn Simon Paperwork and the Will of Capital (Cologne: Gagosian and Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH and Co., 2015), 19. 45 UNHCR, “UNHCR warns Australia-Cambodia agreement on refugee relocation could set worrying precedent,” (26 September, 2014), www.unhcr.org/5425570c9.html. 46 Salmond, Tears of Rangi: Experiments Across Worlds, 369. 47 Taryn Simon quoted in Alexxa Gotthardt, “Taryn Simon Unearths the Flowers that Witnessed History’s Most Pivotal Political Decisions,” Artsy.net 18 February, 2016. 48 Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. 49 Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Noonday Press, 1981). See also: John Berger, “Uses of Photography,” in About Looking (New York: Pantheon, 1980), 48–64. 50 See Svalbard Global Seed Vault www.seedvault.no/. The byline is “Safeguarding Seeds for the Future.” 51 Damian Carrington, “Arctic Stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts,” The Guardian 20 May, 2017. www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/19/ arctic-stronghold-of-worlds-seeds-flooded-after-permafrost-melts. 52 Natasha Myers, “How to grow livable worlds: Ten not-so-easy steps,” in The World to Come, ed. Kerry Oliver Smith, (Florida: Harn Museum of Art, Gainsville, 2018), 59. 53 Myers, “How to grow livable worlds,” 54. 54 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 99. 55 Haraway, When Species Meet, 4. 56 Spivak, Death of a Discipline, 72. 57 Spivak, Death of a Discipline, 73. 58 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. 59 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, 23. 60 Elizabeth Grosz, Becoming Undone. Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 21. 61 Jennifer Hamilton, “Bad Flowers: The Implications of a Phytocentric Deconstruction of the Western Philosophical Tradition for the Environmental Humanities,” Environmental Humanities 7 (2015): 191–202. 62 Elizabeth Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 60. 63 At an artist’s talk in Venice after the highest recorded acqua alta on 20 November 2020, Mitchell commented that the server somehow remained dry. 64 Barad in Karen Barad, Malou Juelskjaer and Nete Schwennesen, “Intra- active Entanglements: Interview with Karen Barad,” Kvinder, Køn and Forskning Nr, Women, Gender and Research 1–2 (2012): 20. 65 Barad in Barad, Juelskjaer and Schwennesen, “Intra-active Entanglements,” 21. 66 Elizabeth Povinelli, “Do Rocks Listen? The Cultural Politics of Apprehending Australian Aboriginal Labor,” American Anthropologist 97, No. 3 (September 1995): 506. 67 Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), 11. 68 Elizabeth Povinelli, “The Three Figures of Geontology,” in Anthropocene Feminism, ed. Richard Grusin, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 54. 69 Tung-Hui Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud (Cambridge, MA and London, England: MIT Press, 2016). 70 Povinelli, “The Three Figures of Geontology,” 55. 71 Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None. 72 Zalasiewicz, The Earth After Us: What Legacy will Humans leave in the Rocks? 9.
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106 New Taxonomies 3 Povinelli, “The Three Figures of Geontology,” 55. 7 74 Mikala Dwyer in Luke Parker, “Interview with Mikala Dwyer,” Mikala Dwyer: The Garden of Half-life, ed. Luke Parker and Ann Stephen (Sydney: University Art Gallery, The University of Sydney, 2015), 64. 75 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015). 76 Gary Genosko, “New Fundamental Elements of a Contested Planet,” Talk at Open Semiotics Resource Centre, Toronto, 8 September, 2013. www.youtube.com/watch?v=T s0O0MoTpxM&feature=emb_logo. See also Guattari, The Three Ecologies. 77 Dwyer in Parker, “Interview with Mikala Dwyer,” 64. 78 Dwyer in Parker, “Interview with Mikala Dwyer,” 61. 79 Mikala Dwyer in Anthony Byrt, “Frontier Spirits: Myth, Ghosts and borders in the work of Mikala Dwyer,” Frieze 139 (1 May 2011), https://frieze.com/article/frontier-spirits. 80 Dwyer in Byrt, “Frontier Spirits.” 81 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 142–145. 82 T. J. Demos, “The Art of Darkness: On Steve McQueen,” October 114 (2005): 61–89. www.jstor.org/stable/3397625. 83 Raj Patel and Jason Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things: A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018). 84 Steve McQueen in David Coggins, “Steve McQueen,” Interview Magazine, 17 February, 2009. www.interviewmagazine.com/art/steve-mcqueen. 85 T. J. Demos, The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary During Global Crisis (New York: Duke University Press, 2013), 28. 86 Guattari, The Three Ecologies. 87 Jussi Parikka, The Anthrobscene (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014). 88 Quoted in Nigel Clark, “Geo- Politics and the Disaster of the Anthropocene,” The Sociological Review 62, no. 1_suppl (June 2014): 19–37. 89 Steve Mentz, “Stone Voices: Geomaterialism in the Ecohumanities,” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities 6, no. 1 (Winter, 2018): 118–125. 90 Clark, “Geo-Politics and the Disaster of the Anthropocene,” 33. 91 Clark, “Geo-Politics and the Disaster of the Anthropocene,” 33. 92 Povinelli, Geontologies, 142. 93 Povinelli, Geontologies, 176. 94 Quoted in Richard Watts, “Working with Geological Memory,” Arts Hub, 19 May, 2010. https://visual.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/visual-arts/working-with-geological- memory-181311. 95 Michael Welland, “Poetry and Bookkeeping,” in The Geologic Imagination, ed. Arie Altena, Mirna Belina, Lucas van der Velden, (Amsterdam: Sonic Acts press, 2015), 124. Welland notes that even the original proposal for plate tectonics by Harry Hess in 1962 was subtitled “An Essay in Geopoetry.” 96 Quoted in “Dwyer and Young win the 19th Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize,” Art Almanac, 26 March, 2015. www.art-almanac.com.au/dwyer-young-win-the-19th-redlands- konica-minolta-art-prize/. 97 Quoted in Byrt, “Frontier Spirits,” 106. 98 Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Volume 2 , trans. Monique Layton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 41. 99 Serres, The Natural Contract, 4. 100 Haraway, When Species Meet.
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Storm In an age in which the scales of life and death are “flipping back and forth,” Australian environmental anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose has shown that an ethical approach to environmental catastrophe is imperative.1 For Rose, this means nature and the environment are no longer a passive background to human disasters, but that humans, nature, environment, and disaster all require redefinition. In her extended book-essay Wild Dog Dreaming, Rose wonders whether “love” is an emotion that could help stave off some of the very worse impacts of catastrophe. She wants us to consider the sixth extinction—for both humans and the other species we share the planet with—and in doing so, Rose addresses the global by focusing on the local. Throughout Wild Dog Dreaming, she employs a repeated motif of incomprehensible human violence towards dingo in Australia. She doesn’t quite start with catastrophe, but it doesn’t take long to get there. On page 93, Rose includes a photograph of a dingo, strung up, left for dead on a barbed wire fence. The photograph contains none of the post-production spectacle of professional documentary photography, it is a personal photo, snapped in the moment. The body has been carelessly flung there, only by chance catching on the barbs, the dingo’s nose angled back to the ground, but not quite touching. Behind him are paddocks of dry grass and the mound of a flat- topped hill silhouetted against a dull hot sky. Within the photo, there are no human witnesses to this silent catastrophe. As viewers of the photograph in the book, we must take that role. Rose captions the image: “ ‘His face is turned toward the past … The pile of debris grows skyward.’ Near Kidman Springs Research Station, Northern Territory, 2006 (Author’s photo).”2 The image is not strictly necessary for the story Rose is telling in the book. Rose has already prefigured what we are about to see, she has described her encounter with this fence, and others like it, the pile of death has been accumulating. However, in her book about extinction, catastrophe, and destructive human activity on the planet, the image plays a pivotal role because once we have seen it, it is not so easy to turn away. The photograph confronts us in the particular way that photographs do. We cannot skip over this section of her argument, even a glance has seared the image into our consciousness. It is impossible to separate the photograph from the event, because a photograph is always already a memory.3 The dingo was once alive, and Rose wants us to understand that the scale of this loss is much greater than that of a single life, as if that were not already enough. The metaphorical pile of debris at the dingo’s feet is located right where we are sitting with the book in our lap.
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108 Acceleration The inclusion of the photograph makes this our catastrophe too. As one of Rose’s close collaborators, Thom van Dooren, writes, we need to start understanding “the multiple connections and dependencies between ourselves and these disappearing others … all of the ways in which we are at stake in each other, all of the ways in which we share a world.”4 One death does not make a species extinct, but it might. Even in death, the dingo is not a background to human activities. This single catastrophe is connected to all catastrophes. The quote that makes up Rose’s caption is drawn from German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s last text, the “Theses on the Philosophy of History” written in early 1940, amidst rapid and catastrophic change. Benjamin writes: A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.5 Rose adapts Benjamin’s allegorical reading of Paul Klee’s painting for a particular reason. As well as being caught in the calm before the storm, the angel/dingo can no longer turn his back on the future. Trapped within a storm—a massive socioecological catastrophe that he is powerless to prevent—the angel/dingo points to a deep time in which the discrete markers of humanity’s historical periods are swept away. Benjamin’s fragmentary text—a text in ruins—entangles the historical into the environmental into the social, resulting in a chain of events in which the emergence of the modern world is predicated on the anxiety and violence that surrounds him. The world is collapsing, yet it is difficult for even angels to see what will happen next. This is why Benjamin’s allegory is apt for Rose as she introduces the layered violence of living in Australia in the Anthropocene. In Australia, a thin stratum of Anthropocenic time (defined vis-à-vis industrialisation and colonisation) sits on top of 60,000 years of lived human time in which humans and dingos have lived and worked together. Like Benjamin’s angel, the dingo is at a cusp, about to turn and move away and yet his wings are caught by the storm, he can neither do away with the unintelligible human tradition that has resulted in this moment nor embrace it. The violence that has piled the debris before him has become normalised, so much so that soon the angel will not be able move. The dingo too, must respond to the catastrophe. Rose’s dingo photograph transcends a single point of view. The planet, and the dingo, and the photographer, and the famished hills, and us, the viewers, are all interconnected. In another context, feminist theorist of science Karan Barad wrote, “we (but not only ‘we humans’) are always already responsible for the others with whom or which we are entangled.”6 Dingos, humans, angels. Everything else as well—land, grass, fire—even that pile of debris, contains potential for entanglement: responsibility for others. This entanglement is the planetary aesthetics I approach in this book.
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Acceleration 109 To push this further, there is an allegorical mode by which art and nature are haunted by the planetary effects of catastrophic change. After the landscapes and taxonomies laid out in the previous chapters, this chapter assembles a response to the fearful new old world by returning to the definition of humanity as a geological force. I focus on specific moments of socioenvironmental catastrophe as read through artworks. By carefully avoiding homogeneity, the artworks discussed here engage directly with traumas sedimented within the layers of this new Anthropocenic definition of nature. By engaging allegorical modes—defined as figurative approaches that go beyond, for example, the undignified death of a starving polar bear—these works, like the dingo and the angel, remain difficult and uncomfortable. They do not just stand in; they fold time and space together. It is not possible to separate drought, flood, earthquake, and fire from technical, political, social, and economic contexts. These accumulations of catastrophe are visible in art and texts. In popular media, discussions about the Anthropocene oscillate between hopefulness that there is still time to avert a greater catastrophe, and hopelessness that it is all too late. Both perspectives rely on narratives of fear, shock, utopia, and escape. Noting that the word Anthropocene is not a very “nice” one, director of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, Christof Mauch, writes that perhaps its unpleasantness is important as the Anthropocene, and our “fascination with this term … is an expression of our fears.”7 Mauch’s point is that it should not be a very nice word that describes current human–environmental relationships. Australian environmental historian Kate Wright echoes Mauch, when she says: “The Anthropocene is a troubling term for a disturbing era.”8 I build on Mauch and Wright to address the triple economic, social, and environmental catastrophes of the Anthropocene by thinking carefully alongside artworks that do not turn away from such trouble, or unpleasantness. In fact, these days there is a morbid equivalence to disaster no matter what the scale. Sometimes, it is necessary to turn away least we risk saturation, but at other times, like today, it is necessary to turn towards the catastrophe. As Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood exhorted, “We will go onwards in a different mode of humanity, or not at all.”9 Plumwood advocates for another mode of being, neither hopeful nor hopeless, but one in which we face the present to better understand the future. Australian artist Susan Norrie picks up the complicated social and environmental threads of geological catastrophe by tracing the boundaries of the everyday as it is lived amidst the ring of fire that circles the Pacific Ocean. The Circum-Pacific Belt traces the land and water at the edges of the Pacific Ocean, and accounts for 75 percent of the planet’s volcanoes and 90 percent of its earthquakes and is home to many millions of people. Living in these geologically unstable environments, we already know what it means to be a geological force. The ring of fire is neither metaphorical nor something to be anticipated into the future. Amidst the ring of fire, humans are both geological force and also the builders and definers of accumulative sites of everyday environmental time and space. Norrie has been working in this region for over two decades and her video installations Undertow (2002), HAVOC (2007), Aftermath (2016), and Transit (2012) document phenomena such as storms, dust clouds, and thermal mud pools, as well as the impacts of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Norrie does not shy away from the approaching storm, instead she layers it: wind becomes a tempest, mud transforms
Figure 4.1 Susan Norrie, Undertow (2002). Six- channel digital video installation, colour, sound, projection boxes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
into volcanoes, protests reach towards the edge of violence, and people use torches to find their way as the sun is blocked by clouds of dust. In Undertow (2002, Figure 4.1), Norrie unearths the superstitions and fears that pervade our understandings of the natural environment, except the world before us on the video screens does not always feel or look “natural.” The six-channel full screen immersive video installation presents various human and natural disasters, settling and unsettled in a grand immersive sequence that spreads before the viewer. The screens are all of different sizes, the scale shifts constantly. Footage obtained from the Greenpeace offices in Sydney, including oil fires in Russia and the northern seas, and oil disasters in the UK, has been slowed down and desaturated so that it glows a deep indigo blue, trapping us like bugs in a sticky fly trap. A large screen shows an apocalyptic dust storm in Melbourne provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and close-up shots of boiling thermal mud pools from Rotorua, New Zealand, all held together by a slow meditative soundtrack by Robert Hindley that immerses the viewer, enabling time to stretch around us, and the screens. One sequence that feels more like an excerpt from a science fiction movie than documentation, shows lab-coated scientists releasing giant balloons to measure atmospheric ozone. And in another, a small girl is lifted high on her father’s shoulders, softly enveloped in the joy that is the flowering of the first cherry blossoms in Tokyo. Yet even this footage is overladen with pathos as “the cherry blossoms had bloomed two-and-a-half weeks prematurely, triggered by an overheated, emission-filled city.”10 What is important in Norrie’s work is to remember that “this is not an immersion in despair but a slow- motion, carefully orchestrated experience where visitors to the exhibition stay with their grief and hope.”11 Measuring the air, Norrie demonstrates that it is impossible to separate ourselves from the environment. After some time in Undertow, it becomes
Acceleration 111 apparent that the earth system is in constant motion. The space and time of the planet cannot be based on identification of and with stable surroundings. Norrie’s concern is with collectivity, enduring resilience, and the ways that people might address future engagements with the environment from where they are located.12 On the 26 May 2006 in Porong, East Java, Indonesia, the Lapindo mud flow erupted, at its peak spewing 180,000 cubic metres of mud a day into the surrounding region.13 Now known as the Lusi mud volcano (Lusi is a linguistic contraction of mud and Sidoarjo, the province where the mud is), it has subsumed 13 villages, and displaced tens of thousands of people. It is not clear whether the flow began because of the activities of the Indonesian oil and gas exploration company PT Lapindo Brantas, and their partners the Australian company Santos, who were drilling in the area at the time; or because of seismic activity in this incredibly vulnerable region of the world. As Anto Mohsin says “Lusi is a disaster that is muddy literally and figuratively.”14 Norrie visited just after the flow began and used footage captured there within HAVOC (2006–2007, Figure 4.2), a 16-channel video installation first screened at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Whereas Undertow is slow and meditative, HAVOC is overwhelmingly intense. The chaotic sound layers of the streets meet their equal in the endless stream of mud that flows from the ground, and the constant movement of heavy machinery. Even when concentrated onto 16 screens, it becomes impossible to gather the entire story. The first four screens include footage of ongoing mining. Desaturated images show rooftops peeking from amidst the flow of mud, the steaming sky blocks distant views of diggers, trucks, everything is engulfed in a horrifying seemingly slow- motion ooze. The middle 10 screens contain a storm of people, protest, prayer, places, sounds, shipping containers, traffic, water, music, and mud. Screen after screen of
Figure 4.2 Susan Norrie, HAVOC (2006–2007). Still from 16-channel video installation in three rooms, Palazzo Giustinian Lolin, 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
112 Acceleration environment, technology, organisation, figuration, moving parts, space, and time. People build temporary houses, others wade through chest high mud flows, and it is hard to know where to look next. A low rumble fills the air around the final diptych. On one screen is a stylised sequence filmed on the active volcano of Mount Bromo. Four men on horses, (the local people tasked with guiding people around the disaster) ride in close formation as they drift in and out of fog and mist. On the second screen, a man holds a pure white goat high above his head, above the mouth of the volcano, everything pauses, before he descends back down a loose gravel track with the animal embraced close to his chest. What seems to be one thing, never is. Somewhere here, it is possible to grasp at a narrative, a way that the imagery begins to tell the story. But this description of the screens hovers around the key actant in Norrie’s work. The allegorical impetus of HAVOC is left to the mud itself. The mud lays claim to everything. As Norrie says, the process of filming was akin to “taking one sinking place to another amidst the evolving disaster.”15 It is the mud, as it sticks, never releasing its grip from anything it touches, that holds the key to this everyday understanding of geological forces. Ten years later, in Aftermath (2016, Figure 4.3), Norrie returns to the bleak muddy environment. The Lusi mud volcano continues to spill over the land. In some places, the mud has dried, burying houses and livelihoods over 40 metres deep. Given the immediacy of HAVOC, Aftermath confronts a different, yet equally overwhelming tension between futility and resilience. In Aftermath, the story is of people continuing to live within the mud disaster. Shrimp farmers have adapted to their circumstances, and continue to work within the waterways. At the frontline, bulldozers and dredges have been working monotonously for over a decade to shift mud from one location to another. The mud is bottomless, it never stops spewing, it is never exhausted. People push it around, clearing, but we watch as liquid mud fills all available space. The
Figure 4.3 Susan Norrie, Aftermath (2016). Still from single-channel digital video, Porong, Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
Acceleration 113 tragedy is that this is no aftermath. Where the mud is still flowing the people are still cleaning up. And where it has settled and dried it has buried 13 villages. Norrie says: the scene was quite different in 2006/2007. Buildings, factories and the villages were half submerged in this toxic sea. Ten years later, it’s deathly … walking over the land felt like you were walking over a vast tomb, all memories of a former life had disappeared … gone forever.16 Some sequences seem impossible. A digger balanced on 2 concrete platforms with its 55-gallon drum of oil alongside it, is filmed floating in the middle of a seemingly infinite pool of watery mud digging its own channel down and across the wide expanse of muddy wetness. Reaching between its rollers, it sinks its bucket deep into the opaque mud, coming up for air it swings to the side; mud and water flow over the edges of the bucket. It drops its load and goes back for more, again and again and again. There is a person inside, somewhere, and there are neat wooden boards on the concrete blocks for the digger to rest on. I hazard a guess that these will aid in rolling on and off the precarious platform, but I don’t really understand. Concrete can’t float, oil and water don’t mix, and diggers can’t swim. There is a remarkable consistency and interconnection to Norrie’s vision across these three works. Colour is desaturated in each, and yet they glow. In HAVOC and Aftermath, it is as if the screen itself is viewed through a sheen of mud. Even in the act of looking in a pristine white gallery somewhere else in the world, we become coated: metaphorically caked in mud, we become a part of the image. On screen, we bear witness to what it means to be living within the geological forces of the Anthropocene. And what we see is about much more than living within structures of power and resilience, it is about the human capacity to reshape the environment around us: the geos and the bios together. Kathryn Yusoff points out that, as well as being embedded in the murk of the history of geology as a discipline, the Anthropocene thesis itself offers us a way to understand “how the geo and the social hook up.”17 Yusoff asks us to take a step further away from the “natural” disasters of earthquakes and volcanos expanding the definition of geos to include “Waste sites, mining shafts and extraction zones … imagined as the new museums of humanity, alongside the more affectual and accumulative material registers of pollution, toxicity and climate shifts.”18 Because they bring together social and industrial accumulations, Yusoff calls these sites “the violent infrastructures of geology” across which “new forms of politics are emerging.”19 Norrie shows the human entwined within these violent infrastructures. Norrie’s works highlight the entangled and relational worlds of humans. Hers is a gentle compassionate eye that gathers together impossibly difficult images through a negotiated ethics of encounter. Each disaster that Norrie turns her gaze to is local and specific yet global and disturbingly familiar.20 This is the geos and the social “hooking up” in the form of impossible human-mud machines: the new old techno–eco–social assemblages of the Anthropocene. In 2011, Norrie found herself in Japan amidst the anti- nuclear protests that followed the Tōhoku Earthquake disaster. Her single channel work Transit (2011, Figure 4.4) once again points to the scale of the human as part of an Anthropocenic environment. At its core, Transit is a study in the volatility of the catastrophic forces of these geosocial worlds. Norrie captures the fear and vulnerabilities of humans
Figure 4.4 Susan Norrie, Transit (2011). Single-channel digital video, colour, sound, 14:35 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artist.
amidst nuclear ecologies. Although once again focused on catastrophe, within a global scale, her strategy resists the didactic risk-management logics of disaster and capitalism. These economic frameworks are not her focus, instead her care is for the question of “who’s going to survive the future.”21 Speaking quietly throughout Transit is the voice of Indigenous shaman Yoshimaru Higa, who lives on the volcanic island of Okinawa. Higa talks of his fears, and reminds us that the structure of nature is “not an evil thing in itself.”22 We listen to him, reel within the human force of protest, and watch images of the Japanese Aerospace Agency launch rockets and satellites into space from another volcanic island, Tanegashima. Here, the space centre undertakes its satellite monitoring work in the shadow of the Sakurajima volcano. Norrie’s focus is on the way humans seem to disregard the forewarnings of people like Higa. People did not know that the Tōhoku earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster was going to happen, but surely, she seems to say, they know something was going to happen. Norrie’s works, like the other artworks discussed in this book, present a radical fiction through which we can approach the Anthropocene, sideways. There is always something left over, something that niggles at the edges of our knowledge, encouraging us to look again. These works provide some of the languages in which the contemporary world is situated: within the Anthropocene and yet looking towards an unknown future. Western Enlightenment thought swerved art away from allegorical forms. Direct relations mapped by symbols were preferred. Now there is a need for something more than the show-and-tell of representation. Ursula Heise has traced the ways we imagine shared human responsibility for this representational world in literature.
Acceleration 115 The stories we tell ourselves, she writes “directly or indirectly, explain why we care, not just as individuals but as communities or cultures.”23 These stories map the vital sites where it appears in art, as both relic of living system and an intensification of capital. By employing visual devices of metaphor and allegory, Norrie shows us that despite all the catastrophe, the Anthropocene still has a heartbeat. Metaphor and its associates—allegory, rhetoric, fable, and myth—emerge as ways to approach the planetary entanglements of the Anthropocene. Through these works, we cannot fully grasp the scale of the Anthropocene, but we can glimpse at what it does. It is visual allegory that brings together the stories of art history with those of the environmental humanities. Reflecting on the emergence of the environmental humanities, Thom van Dooren observes that when the humanities and the environment come together new alignments form: But this is no innocent alignment: both “the environment” and “the human” will never be the same again. Neither conceptual category can withstand this close proximity. Here, the nature/culture dualism implodes and we’re all repositioned as participants in lively ecologies of meaning and value, entangled within rich patterns of cultural and historical diversity that shape who we are and the ways in which we are able to “become with” others.24 The implication of these alignments across lively ecologies is that if humans are also geological force, something else is also being disturbed, or transformed. When Walter Benjamin was faced with the deepening crisis of modernity at the outbreak of World War II, he looked back to the previous world war: Human multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country, high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations rose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug in Mother Earth. This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale.25 This planetary scale remains. A storm at the feet of the angel. Thinking about the effects of humans on the planet can become overwhelming, and there is a privilege to be able to describe at a distance, rather than put aside the laptop and fight the fires. Benjamin did not have this privilege, the catastrophe he was experiencing extended across geological and social forces that he would not survive. Benjamin rages against the violence committed against nature through power, war, and technology. He despairs at the modern use of technology to control nature, pointing to earlier cosmic relations where nature is understood through communal and “ecstatic contact.”26 It is through planetary contact, he argues that “we gain certain knowledge of what is nearest to us and what is remotest from us, and never of one without the other.”27 This energetic understanding of the planet and those of us who inhabit it moves my thoughts away from a human-scaled understanding of the environment to one that encompasses the more-than-human. Benjamin challenges the fixed parameters of nature, and yet rather than recuperate the Anthropocene, his work shows us its foundations.
Fold The rapid pace at which the Anthropocene has rewritten relationships between humans and nature is apparent in the way that even the most frightening scenarios are becoming ordinary. British geologist and secretary of the Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, Colin Waters argues that the clearest dating of the Anthropocene is the “abrupt signature” of plutonium 239 resulting from a surge in above-ground nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s, and leaving “an extremely distinctive radiogenic signature—a unique pattern of radioactive isotopes captured in the layers of the planet’s marine and lake sediments, rock and glacial ice.”28 This is what it means for humans to be geological. Although the term Anthropocene contains “a metaphoric insistence that people are like forces of geology,” there are other forces folded within the sediments, rock, and ice—society, technology, greed, power, and control.29 These are the ethical, societal, and cultural forces that define the allegorical significance of the Anthropocene. The artworks I discuss in this book address the dynamics of our planetary future, informed by the past and viewed within the present. When these imagined futures are challenged by the urgency and reality of Anthropogenic climate change what results is a poetics of ecological transformation that is troubled by what it means to think beyond the surface. As Kathryn Yusoff and Jennifer Gabrys explain “Climate change, in short, is being reimagined as ethical, societal, and cultural.”30 However, as I have argued throughout this book, the Anthropocene is more than climate change; it is the moment where the categories and taxonomies of the order of things break down.31 The breakdown in the order of things connects what it means to be human with what it means to be geological. Amidst all of this, there are moments when I find myself alone in an art gallery. I’m standing in front of an oddly shaped tin shed. The work is Rapture (2004, Figure 4.5), by the New Zealand artist’s collective known as et al.32 The shed is balanced on a pallet mover supported by four low piles of pine blocks. It is at the centre of a small alcove in which there are other temporary elements propped against the walls. Every surface of the installation is camouflaged with matt grey paint. On a shelf on the back wall of the alcove is a small votive figurine, recognisable as a donkey. It is perhaps there to be worshipped. Projected onto the wall in front of the figurine, and catching its shadow, is a graph charting some unexplained experiment, made from what appear to be flows of energy, or complex elevation geometries. At unexpected moments, the construction erupts, emitting screeching noises, which shake its foundations. The sound is shocking, especially if a viewer is close by. The sounds that cause the enclosed shed to shake so uncontrollably are recordings made of the French underground nuclear tests conducted at Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia between 1973 and 1996. The work is about the allegorical energies of the Anthropocene. Side-stepping the rules of engagement usually established by the white cube, et al. enfold the social, the technological, and the environmental within the ecologies of the gallery.33 The et al. collective present a parable of the Anthropocene in which listening to such unbearable noise also means having it disturbingly visualised in the form of an uncontrollable rapture. On 2 July 1966, French military scientists dropped their first plutonium fission bomb (code named Aldebaran) from a helium balloon into the lagoon at the centre of Mururoa atoll and commenced a series of nuclear tests that would continue across
Figure 4.5 et al., Rapture (2004). Telecom Prospect 2004 City Gallery Wellington in partnership with the Adam Art Gallery, New Zealand Film Archive and Massey University. Curated by Emma Bugden City Gallery, Wellington May–August 2004. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
the Pacific until 1996.34 Charles De Gaulle declared the image of blast mushrooms etched against a pristine Pacific sky to be “beautiful.”35 After protests in 1973, the French shifted from atmospheric and above-ground to underground tests, drilling shafts deep beneath the atoll’s coral surface. In 1996, the President of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, was photographed bathing in the crystal clear waters of the lagoon.36 And throughout the 30 years of testing, Tahitians living on nearby Islands were gifted Technicolour prints of the explosion to pin to their walls.37 The vast tidalectic space of Moana Oceania, imagined by European explorers to be outside of human time, was amassing evidence of the Anthropocene deep within its coral body. It was images (of relaxed Presidents and pristine islands populated by happy people) that were used to “beguile, blind, pacify, incite, injure, or control.”38 As anthropologist Miriam Kahn explains, Tahiti became a tourist and marketing image of the Anthropocene:
118 Acceleration It is clearly the case in French Polynesia that representations of place are enmeshed in politics, and that human lives are ensnared in the politics of representation. … Postcards of bare breasts distract attention from nuclear tests. Guidebook photos of colourful fish darting in crystalline water keep one from noticing government clean-up crews who dispose of trash by shovelling it into the sea.39 Reports of the first explosion at Mururoa describe the lagoon as being transformed into a “tempestuous cauldron.”40 Possibly less romantic but equally accurate, scientists measured the sonic signals as they pulsed across the seafloor. Et al. use the allegorical spaces of the art gallery to tell these histories of violence that form and reform across Moana Oceania. The contingent objects in Rapture are both present and standing in for another kind of presence. Rapture mixes the colonial and militarised exploitations of Cold War science with the atmospheric poison of the Anthropocene. It addresses the networked worlds of capital and war that have resulted from the mass movements of sediment, and the nuclear and fossil fuels upon which both contemporary art and the Anthropocene have been built. In 2005 for the Venice Biennale, et al. activated the fundamental practice (2005, Figure 4.6) expanding the reach of the rapturous tin shed into a cluster of animated rolling
Figure 4.6 et al., the fundamental practice, for the New Zealand pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2005, (2005). Santa Maria della Pietà, Riva degli Schiavoni, Venice, Italy, 12 June– 6 November 2005. Photograph by Jennifer French. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
Acceleration 119 mobile units renamed Autonomous Purification Units (APUs). Now on wheels and controlled by an automated pulley system the units speak in monotone voices. One declares: We are artists now. And when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality: judiciously: (as you will): we will act again, creating other new realities, (which you can study too). And, that is how things will sort out. We are history’s actors: and you: (all of you): will be left to just study what we do.41 the fundamental practice is a flood of information that challenges viewers to engage with aesthetic tools that blur the disciplines, media, expectations, and models through which the artwork is viewed. The possibilities suggested are at once confusing and didactic. The viewing experience becomes one of trial and error, chasing a series of constantly changing technological and ecological moments. The installation occupies a cavernous space that is partially blocked by portable tables stacked with newspapers. There are posters everywhere, inside and outside the building. A few projections light the space. Everything feels temporary, provisional. The space is dim, clear paths are blocked. To enter viewers must slip around the hurricane fencing, which despite the formal architecture feels like a control or detention centre. The ominous hovering APU house the voices of many different media and political authorities that suggest answers: that somewhere within this work are methodologies to confront the materialising and geological force of the human. It is the contradiction of the visibility and improbability of the monoliths that renders them believable. Despite all the deception, et al. do not construct an art history that feels like a crime scene; for example, found within the hull of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior bombed in New Zealand by French agents to stop its protests against the nuclear tests in the Pacific.42 Instead, viewing the exhibition is an experience of witnessing objects replete in their own immanent context. The APU are the nervous system of the installation connecting the environment and behaviours—their environment, our behaviours, and vice versa. Because of their connection to the voices around us, the APU map the imposition of control, power, and force in various disputed territories across the planet. This is not a location for interrogation, but a record of it. It is as if multiple messages have been sent, they have arrived, but their source, channel, and transmitter are unintelligible to the receiver. Et al. warn that just turning to the surface of the planet is not enough. They suggest an adaptation to a different kind of ecology; an order of relations in which the present is reflected back at us. The artists, speaking through the APU, explain: There is much truth in much of our knowledge, but little certainty. We must approach our hypothesis critically; we must test them as severely as we can, in order to find out whether they cannot be shown to be false after all.43 By testing the complex relationship of human to environment to meaning et al. present new artefacts for the future. They examine the remnant resources of the human left within the geological and package them as future records of the age of the Anthropocene. I’m in another gallery, sitting in front of a two-screen video installation. The screens seem to be from a different time. Place is unclear. On one screen, it is as if we are
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120 Acceleration witnesses to some great catastrophe. There is a man, he wanders the streets with a discarded shopping trolley collecting leftovers. Society clearly has its focus elsewhere, on some great and more important task than cleaning the streets. I watch as the man returns home with a dog, more dead than alive, and slowly together man and dog eke out an existence; they create sculptures from the bits and pieces he has found, they warm themselves by the fire, the sun comes out. Time is still and waiting. Beside him, on another screen, a woman occupies a sterile lab. She has words in front of her, strict guidelines on how to be and behave. The world she lives in is most- likely the world after the one he lives in. The instructions on the screen say: “For survival, limit physical exertion and reserve calories for emergencies … don’t deviate from the routine, and don’t exhibit excessive emotions.”44 She appears to be tasked with sorting the leftovers of this lost world, his world. And in exchange she can live. She finds twigs, branches, rusted metal. She measures and distils their contents in her home lab. The activities are repetitive, isolated. The narrative continues: a string of tangled fairy lights that she has gathered and left to the side of her desk begins to pulse with energy. Imperceptible at first, their flickering life slowly begins to consume her attention. These are clearly a technology unknown to her, they are perhaps the leftovers from his studio, however many years ago (in some sense it could be last week). The lights offer her a passport to travel through time, an indication that the world beforehand was perhaps not quite the same as this is. Emotion creeps in: “I cannot forget that moment … my life was never again the same … now I can dream of a new world … my future will reflect this.”45 The work is El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012, Figure 4.7), a 2-channel, 13-minute video installation by South Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho and starring two famous Korean actors, Lee Jungjae and Lim Soojung. The installation is one part of Moon and Jeon’s umbrella project News From Nowhere: A Platform for the Future and Introspection of the Present (ongoing) that, to date, has comprised films, installations, workshops, lectures, and a website. The two-channels of El Fin Del Mundo allow two timeframes to operate simultaneously. Finding moments of recognition in each time zone, it is never clear if we are viewing a future past or a past future about to come. Catastrophe itself is never directly outlined, instead viewers gain an affective sense of the impact of disaster, implied through the presence of planetary elements. In “his” gritty world, there is no water in the taps, and fire is contained within the hearth. In “her” sterile world, the air is not safe to breathe, and earth is a containment; there to be washed off, banished from the living environment. Earth, air, fire, water spread across two screens and are now the final elements of the changing planet that they both, humans, must contend with. The fabricated reality of the installation is found in these elemental relationships. The characters and their actions we have seen before, in movies, in books, and even on the street. Their shifting relationship to the elements, though, is something new. Catastrophe as a form of geology is visualised this way. On one screen, flickering lights document a future past when electricity has gone out, and the sun is no longer a source of constant energy. On the other screen, daylight is replaced by a fluorescence that is harsh enough to sterilise every surface. Both screens anticipate the chill of a post-atomic winter. He collects and burns detritus from the street. She has learnt that the air must be avoided at all costs. Earth and water reflect the contaminated surface of the planet. Allegory and parable merge in this moment when the relics of industrialisation are cleaned and preserved, and nature, plant, and mineral have been
Figure 4.7 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012). 13:35 minutes, HD Film installation with sound, Installation view at documenta-Halle. Kassel, Germany. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
rendered undesirable, to be washed away. Jeon Joonho says “The act of observing and portraying reality is related to a reflection on the future, and whether it’s heading towards a utopia or a dystopia.”46 The crossing of space points to the crucial role of imagination in this new geosocial world. The collapsing of time in El Fin Del Mundo allows waves of energy to cross between these parallel worlds. It is clear the work occupies a time of great climactic transformation. Both worlds exist simultaneously in early 2020: a time of crisis in which popular media has turned to science fiction imaginings by artists and writers to find models to understand the simultaneous emergence of global pandemics, racial inequality, and environmental catastrophe. We live within a future where nature is defined via the planetary, rather than in opposition to the human. T. J. Demos suggests that Moon and Jeon’s News From Nowhere is part of a growing collection of ecologically informed works that “bear the potential to both rethink politics and politicize art’s relation to ecology, and [art’s] thoughtful consideration proves nature’s inextricable binds to economics, technology, culture and law at every turn.”47 This convergence is important, as this is precisely why art has played a critical role in the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. In the Anthropocene, art is no longer instrumentalist (put to work by other disciplines), but contributes new flows to how we imagine the future.48 These materialities of fear, fact, truth, and fiction populate Moon and Jeon’s The Ways of Folding Space & Flying (2015, Figures 4.8 and 4.9) that transformed the
Figure 4.8 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying (2015). Installation, Venice Biennale, Korean Pavilion, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
Figure 4.9 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying (2015). Installation, Venice Biennale, Korean Pavilion, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
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Acceleration 123 Korean pavilion at the Venice Biennale into a spaceship for the future, a survival pod upon which possible planetary futures were played out. In The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, Moon and Jeon metaphorically relocate Venice as a city built on nature into a future space of imagined and fantastical imagining. Balanced on, and forever sinking into, organic matter, Venice, a city born from the necessities of war and commerce remains dependent on hordes of tourists. After a great flood, in Moon and Jeon’s imagined future world, the only remaining vestige of the Giardini is the Korean Pavilion—now a laboratory for hyperreal archaeological investigations. In this new post-apocalyptic toxic world, it is clear that humans are an endangered species. Built in 1996, and levitating slightly on raised pillars, the Korean Pavilion is a series of interlocking circular rooms that emerge from the broad garden paths of the Giardini. Moon and Jeon filled the pavilion’s transparent walls with the blue glow of the distant horizon. Visitors were enticed to enter what felt to be a submarine space that appeared to be alive, watching us from the inside out. Internally, the space was folded and compressed. The sensation was of being simultaneously under the water and floating on top of it. Perhaps this was not a submarine but a lifebuoy—a marker of a deeper dive happening below. Some external screens showed a close-up of a woman’s face, her hair and face icy, her wide gaze open, her pupils large, eyes black, colourless. The aesthetics match those of the world seen in El Fin Del Mundo. On entering, we witness her life, as it is spread across many screens. In precise white clothes, she is a single organic being within a hermetically sealed environment. She drinks water and exercises inside a frictionless wheel. On another screen, she lies at rest in a pod, perhaps watery, perhaps the source of energy, the sun. She is terribly alone. Around her are more screens, screens within screens, glimpses of an outside world, trees, and leaves, a future past world that, like the extinct species of our own time, she can only access via datasets. She juggles and traces these worlds through new technologies, that are, like all science fiction, reflections of our current technologies. We witness her trapped within an everyday that seems not so far from our own. The didactics for the exhibition explain that the concept of folding space refers to a Korean Taoist practice of chukjibeop. This sends me in a loop back through Google, in and out of the exhibition.49 Search engines twist time, like the pavilion, they are distance-shrinking machines. Folding the planet means travelling a great distance in a short amount of time. Fold the Anthropocene back into the Holocene, fold the Holocene back further, until the edges touch, and the golden spikes of geological time seem less important than the presence of these edges of time, touching. The artists interrupt my online musing with another touchstone for the project—the Korean concept of bihaengsul—describing a supernatural power to levitate, fly, and travel across time and space.50 Within the pavilion, it is the audience who are flying, twisting here and there as we move through the floating home of this woman who has supernatural powers. She is sleepwalking before us into this time, from another time, as yet again, rest has become a form of quarantine. In a darkened space another woman, or perhaps it is the same woman from another time, approaches the viewer. She wears sixteenth-century Venetian clothing and holds a lamp high to see through the fog. Her boots help her wade through the rising tides. She is a time-traveller, folding the histories of this site, looking for future audiences, visitors from another time and space. She returns from the depths. Her city is now deep underwater; the pavilion that is a colonising layer on top of her world, has itself been overtaken by the tidal waters of the lagoon, covered over and encased in sediment.
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124 Acceleration It too will become a marker of human activity on this planet. This post-catastrophic future of The Ways of Folding Space & Flying presents a historical entwining of survival and memory enacted upon a benign flooded earth. Only a few have survived, and it seems that we are all gathered within this floating lifebuoy on the ocean. In this haunted earth future, Moon and Jeon imagine a transformative planetary aesthetics formed within the fallout of the Anthropocene. In the future, how will the Anthropocene be read in these artworks? Perhaps the process of making sense in the Anthropocene involves a movement towards and away from catastrophe. The impossible possibility of catastrophic change is buried deep within the broken coral of the Pacific and the sedimentary sludge of the lagoon. And in this, the narrative of the Anthropocene as an ongoing and escalating catastrophe seems incredibly human. In her study of the Anthropocene as a metaphor, geographer Lauren Rickards shows how the concept of “humans as a geological force” repositions humans in the world, not just through scientific markers, but by the very language we use to describe ourselves.51 She writes: “For all its talk of rocks, species and the deep past, [the Anthropocene] is as much as about imagination, futures, and the divine as it is about scientific knowledge, practices and institutions.”52 That is not to say that the scientific and the descriptive or metaphorical are opposed to each other, in fact, Rickards notes “the science and rocks of the Anthropocene are not free of imagination and spirits.”53 The close relationship between metaphor and science has always been critical to the development of understandings of the future of the planet. Rickards draws on the work of cognitive philosophers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson to shows that “Metaphors deeply pervade all human cognition, scientific analysis included.”54 Metaphors are the means by which we make sense of things that seem insensible, and significantly, they are the devices by which we teach our children about the world. For example, the notion of an ecological footprint can be directly visualised, and connected to levels of consumption. The entanglement of metaphor, science, and understanding is central to the shifting emotional intensity of the language of the Anthropocene: from global warming, to climate change, to the climate emergency. For children, the idea that we should aim to keeping our ecological footprints light and small is no more ambiguous than the idea that we should tidy our bedrooms.55 The stories told within the artworks discussed in this book are one step more, one footprint further. They tell us of others who have disregarded their traces, who have caused irreparable damage, by not paying enough attention to their (now both metaphorical and actual) footprints. But there is a third step here. Without the allegories and metaphors of the Anthropocene, there is the risk of neglecting our knowledge of what it means to be a geological force. We might end up back in the Holocene, when art, nature, and humans were neat and tidy in discrete categories. To be forceful, is to transform in both language and deeds, but also in relationships. Think back to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Her text was not an imagination of this future, but a parallel one, both silent, both terribly alone. The catastrophes that add up to the Anthropocene risk employing another form of silencing. What if we fold these two catastrophic futures, the geos and the bios, together? Caught within their folds would need to be the history of nuclear disasters in the Pacific, and caught within their folds are people, plants, animals, and a new way of thinking the Anthropocene. Not an Anthropocene defined by digging down through the geological
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Acceleration 125 strata but one in which the folding and unfolding of geological forces press us towards a different kind of planetary understanding.
Fallout There is another scale here. Floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami, and fire have always been disastrous, but these days they quickly compound into full- blown catastrophes. Everything is happening faster “with less time for human and natural systems to adapt.”56 For example, the severity of the summer 2019–2020 bushfires in New South Wales can be attributed to Australia’s increasing carbon emissions resulting from large-scale mining of coal for export and inappropriate land management practices. And just like in the late eighteenth century, in the early twenty-first century, this exponential increase in industrialisation involves the harnessing of steam which requires enormous machines capable of pumping gigalitres of drinking water away from fragile river ecosystems, exacerbating an already extreme drought on land no longer able to be cared for by the traditional owners who have been displaced by governments intent on consuming all available resources. The sequence of events may not be directly causal, but it does have direct impacts: for one, the increased likelihood of the extinction of iconic animals such as koalas and platypus.57 Have you run out of breath? The anxiety is corrosive and spreads well beyond Australia. Other stories need to be told. After the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011, it seemed that no image could encapsulate the planetary impact of one of the most powerful sequences of disasters to hit the world in recent history. At first, the earthquake and tsunami were considered “natural” disasters: killing thousands of people, impacting thousands more, and forever transforming the land and ocean environment. According to official records, over 15,000 people died, more than 6000 were injured, and 2656 remain missing in the 20 effected prefectures.58 The long-term tragedy of the displacement of over 150,000 people from their cities and livelihoods continues. The subsequent loss of power, and meltdown at the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant layered a technological disaster on top of an already catastrophic event. “Radionuclides were released from the plant to the atmosphere and were deposited on land and on the ocean. There were also direct releases into the sea.”59 In After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy argues that the current technoeconomic climate prevents a separation of natural catastrophes from “their technological, economic, and political implications or repercussions.”60 In other words, we cannot separate the accelerating catastrophes of the Anthropocene. Nancy’s concern is with the pervasive impacts of disasters that can no longer be simply called “natural.” His discussion echoes that of the geologists in which the impacts on a global “technosphere” are no longer distinct from the global biosphere.61 These events are planetary, and interconnected at an atmospheric level, yet treated as completely discrete at a political or national level: “An earthquake and the tsunami it caused become a technological catastrophe, which itself becomes a social, economic, political and finally philosophical earthquake.”62 Connecting the invisibility of the radiation with the hidden impacts on the planetary community, Nancy shows how “radiation’s invisibility makes its disavowal easy, but its dissemination continues.”63 Nancy’s point is that not all disasters are equivalent, but “nuclear catastrophe … remains the one potentially irredeemable catastrophe.”64 For Nancy,
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126 Acceleration the Fukushima earthquake–tsunami–nuclear triple disaster is the marker at which the taxonomical frameworks of the Anthropocene change. The storm is still brewing, the crisis piling up at our feet. The Fukushima triple- disaster makes it clear that in the Anthropocene every disaster is the result of human, technological, and natural elements mixed together. The triple-disaster at Fukushima also contains multiple complex, situated, and specific disasters within it. It is both individual and collective. Nancy’s analysis of Fukushima demonstrates how individuals collectively understand disaster as both what has happened and a prediction of what might happen in the future. The events at Fukushima catalysed numerous artworks that sought to record, understand, and thus imagine the future for those who experienced this event, without letting go of the disaster and trauma of its present. In these works, artists are not passive witnesses, they are generators of data and information, allegory and story. They offer tools that guide us to new planetary understandings. On 11 March 2015, for the fourth anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, an international co-curatorial collaboration formed between artist’s collective Chim↑Pom, Kenji Kubota, Eva and Franco Mattes and Jason Waite announced that the exhibition Don’t Follow the Wind had been surreptitiously installed across a number of venues (including a warehouse, a farm, an unopened restraint and a recreation centre) leant by locals and located within the Fukushima exclusion zone.65 The exhibition of 12 commissioned artworks will remain untouched and unseen until the containment zone is reduced. Noting that the predominate contamination in the Fukushima exclusion zone is caesium 137 which has a half-life of 30 years, the curators describe the potential temporality of access to be “years, decades, or a lifetime.”66 Only once the zone is safe will visitors be able to experience the works directly; by which time the works will have been transformed by time and exposure to radiation and the elements. It is a stunning and deeply challenging project. The title of the collective—Don’t Follow the Wind—is drawn from the actions of a Fukushima resident who ignored the instructions issued by the authorities and safely evacuated his family by checking the actual wind direction and driving the other way.67 Rumours also fly on the wind and the artists ask us to travel in the opposite direction, away from, rather than towards, certainty. The significance of exclusion and rumour was made palpable by British art critic Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, who rubbished the exhibition, arguing that the exhibition was excessive, arrogant in its inaccessibility, and that we should just “move” on from the disaster.68 The Don’t Follow the Wind project contains a unique kind of site-specificity, one designed to implicate audiences in the rules surrounding contamination and accessibility. It is a luxury, and a position of grotesque privilege to be able to move on. If the audience cannot directly approach the artworks, then this means the people whose homes, lands, and communities, within which these works are showing cannot either. Don’t Follow the Wind anticipates a future that does not deny the reality of the present. Because we cannot stand in front of the works themselves, audiences are invited to view the exhibition by way of the Don’t Follow the Wind Non-Visitor Centre initially staged at the Watari Museum in Tokyo, and then accompanied by the immersive 360-degree video installation A Walk in Fukushima (Figure 4.10) which travelled to various locations, including the 2015 Biennale of Sydney.69 The visitor centre includes documentation of the disaster, maps, and tables and chairs; a quiet space to rest within the busy world of a Biennale. Housed within the nonvisitor centre,
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Figure 4.10 Don’t Follow the Wind, A Walk in Fukushima (2016). 360- degree video, headsets, cafe furniture from Fukushima, Australian uranium, maps, installation commissioned by the 20th Biennale of Sydney, 20th Biennale of Sydney, Carriageworks, 18 March 2016– 5 June 2016. Reproduced courtesy of Don’t Follow the Wind.
A Walk in Fukushima is screened inside home-crafted headsets made by collaborator Bontaro Dokuyama’s mother, father, and grandmother who all live in Fukushima, (in an area deemed safe yet forever transformed). The video follows behind the curators as they walk us through the houses containing the exhibition, their bodies obscuring the artworks, and alongside glimpses of the artworks we hear the stories from evacuated residents: their desires for a different kind of future. One of the co-curators, Jason Waite, explains that “the show simultaneously generates data and activates the imagination.”70 For the viewer, it involves a sudden shift of space and body.71 When I visit the work at the Sydney Biennale, I place one of the four headsets, that feels like a pimped motorcycle helmet, over my head and am instantly transported. I’m in the backseat of a car driving through desolation, but in reality, I don’t know where I am. The helmet smells. There is a strange beeping, I witness people in white Teflon overalls talking in hushed tones. We pull up in a small village, and everyone gets out of the car, they sweep their bodies with blinking beeping devices, and we enter a room. I’m following behind the curators, but cannot easily see past them. On the floor is a glowing green cube. If I could see it, I would recognise it. The work is Trevor Paglen’s Trinity Cube (2015, Figure 4.11); a cube of Trinitite encased in irradiated
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Figure 4.11 Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube (2020). Irradiated glass from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite. 20 × 20 × 20 cm. Installation view. Don’t Follow the Wind, Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Japan, 2015. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
melted glass taken from the windows of a restaurant inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. One radioactive body inside another. And here we are, more bodies inside other bodies and travelling around the site of an exhibition that we will never be able to visit until the radioactive contamination drops to a “safe” level. And here are the tables and chairs from the farmhouse restaurant, planned for opening in the weeks after the disaster, and now relocated here. These are the same table and chairs that are in the exhibition I’m standing within. Here and there. This is the lived horror of radiation. That we are afraid of something that cannot be seen, and that it can creep up on us. My fear is based on complete ignorance and a lack of data. Knowledge, trust, scale, emotional, and causal relations contribute to the question of what makes a difference amidst the atomic fallout. It is not just about having the data. Paglen’s Trinity Cube, for example, fuses the history of nuclear testing in the United States with the repercussions of the Fukushima disaster. Paglen melted Trinitite (a radioactive mineral created in the New Mexico desert with the explosion of the first nuclear device on 16 July 1945 and illegal to collect and trade since 1972), with broken irradiated windows found within the Fukushima exclusion zone. Now, the cube sits on the floor of a house, over time it will absorb more radiation from the environment. Paglen draws relationships between substances: matter, energy, room,
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Acceleration 129 glass, monitors, breath, shoes, marble, force, dust, speed. Radiation itself is a vibrancy that must be added to this list. The temporal loss and absorption of radiation means the glass works like an eighteenth-century ribbon barometer absorbing and partially capturing the atmospheric transformations that surround it. If natural disasters are never isolated events, but instead moments that form equivalences that create social, cultural, and technological catastrophes; then this is also where art needs to be. The works and the exhibition remain open and yet largely unseen. As part of the exhibition, Taryn Simon constructed an online database of the last photos taken by residents in the days before they were forced to leave their homes. Final Photos sits on a small server powered by solar panels located inside one of the homes. The transmission flickers with waves of radiation that will eventually corrode the solar panels and the server itself. Interruptions. Refusing to forget the chaos. The resistance within all these works is an aesthetic act that guides us towards the unrepresentable impacts of disaster, and gently suggests there might be ways other than fear to respond into the future. As Waite says the exhibition offers “new tools to figure out something we don’t have the faculty to understand and comprehend.”72 These new tools extend to responses beyond the individual moment or experience. Using uranium glass to construct Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013, Figures 4.12 and 4.13) Japanese-Australian artists Ken + Julia Yonetani adopt a granular scale to map the correlations between
Figure 4.12 Ken + Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013). Uranium glass, antique chandelier frames and electrical components, UV lights. Dimensions variable (31 pieces). Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
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Figure 4.13 Ken + Julia Yonetani, Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (2013). Detail. Uranium glass, antique chandelier frames and electrical components, UV lights. Dimensions variable (31 pieces). Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
future potential and actual disaster. Under UV lights, 31 glowing chandeliers represent the 31 nuclear countries of the world; the size of each chandelier corresponding to the number of operating nuclear plants in each country.73 Some of the glass used in the chandeliers is recycled antique glass, sometimes known as Vaseline or Depression glass, and produced with natural uranium. Other chandeliers are made from contemporary uranium glass, created from depleted uranium, a by-product of the uranium enrichment process, needed to produce uranium reactive enough to use in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Both types of glass are still “live,” they contain uranium (but no more radiation than you might be exposed to on a short domestic plane flight). Uranium is a natural geological material. It is the processes of extraction, conversion, and exploitation that make it so dreadfully dangerous. In the twentieth century, Depression glass offered the kinds of cheap pleasure only available to the working classes, the sense that within a socially stratified society, individuals could aspire to beauty, and electricity, and indoor flushing toilets. Walking into the exhibition, we immediately experience the horror of the material transgression. Glowing green glass that should give light and warmth, instead suggests (or perhaps we are just imagining this) the presence of an invisible contaminant. This is the context of the Anthropocene, when a toxic planet leads to a distrust of all materials. As the triple- disaster mutates, the fallout from human nuclear energies to inhuman equivalence starts to glow.
Acceleration 131 The chandelier was an invention of the industrial revolution, its history maps onto the origin stories of the Anthropocene. In the houses of those made wealthy by mass industrialisation, suddenly candle sticks could be suspended from the ceiling in new configurations, bass lamps were redundant and electric light could flicker and glow above tables laden with imperial splendour. In seventeenth century Italy the sparkle of Murano glass marked a coming together of the merchant class and the church. In the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, France, Louis XIV commissioned 43 chandeliers that glowed with the light of 1000 candles and the chandelier became a dedicated symbol of excess and opulence. Only a certain type of person had a chandelier and they lived in countries known for their ostentatious wealth and power. Wealth and power remain the motivators, but now rather than possess a chandelier, countries vie to possess the power contained within its material form. The original Crystal Palace exhibition in London was about art and industry coming together in a celebration of British control, via an assertion of its Empire reinforced through hierarchies of power. Known as the “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations” or “The Great Exhibition,” and held in Hyde Park in 1851, this was Britain’s attempt to sum up the world and its influence within it. Japan was one of the few countries not included. Before it burnt down in 1936, the Crystal Palace was a visible reminder of the economic extent of the British Empire. Likewise, before the disaster, Fukushima was a symbol of the progress of Japan’s post- war industrialisation. By mapping the total nuclear possessions of each country to the size and scale of each chandelier, the Yonetanis present an illusion of data that mimics other attempts to rationalise nuclear energy. The connections extend beyond the geopolitical. The Yonetanis’ Crystal Place beckons us in. We are fearful of its beauty. As one of the displaced residents in Don’t Follow The Wind says “if only radiation had a colour and everything that was radioactive was red and everything that was safe was green. Then we would have tools to figure out … something we don’t have the faculty to understand and comprehend.”74 Like seismic waves, the actual materials themselves do not take long to travel across place and time. In this instance the triple-disaster is shown to be more than human: the glass glows green for danger. These things matter. The very materials from which the disaster was born can be recycled yet do not lose their aura. They represent without literally enacting or re-enacting the violence of the original event. In this way, the Crystal Palace maps both future and actual disaster, its dangerous green glow offers both understanding and comprehension. The politics of material and object relations pervade both Paglen’s Trinity Cube and the Crystal Palace. Both works break with representational registers where an artwork is expected to point to something else. Instead, the hierarchies of thought in which humans act, and objects are acted upon, are upended. And nature seems to have shifted place. The materials used come from the planet, the geos, they thus fit one definition of nature, but their very threat makes them feel decidedly “unnatural.” Here, like Rose’s photograph of the dingo, discussed earlier in this chapter, the catastrophic event and the catastrophic image are bound together. This is what also makes the materials allegorical. Because they adhere to a form of allegorical nature, they alter the world, and become forms of thought that lead to unexpected understanding and
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132 Acceleration comprehension. Allegorical forms, like those employed by Klee, and then Benjamin, and the artists discussed in this book, are the means through which limits are crossed and the moments when what used to be called a “natural event” are exceeded. They point to both the planetary impact and the local impacts of the disasters that will continue to define the Anthropocene. Without universalising (in the way a eulogy might), these works employ an allegorical mode that presents a way to comprehend catastrophic nature, and offers an imaginative and real space in which people can process the impacts of a disaster it is impossible to forget. The future and the past of the event pile up at our feet. In her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson uses the model of the fable to expose “the new, unplotted and mysterious dangers we insist upon creating all around us.”75 Her narrative was met with hostility and denial, not just because of what she was saying, but because of the manner in which she said it. “Chemicals are the sinister and little-recognised partners of radiation,” she wrote, connecting a familiar fear (that of the nuclear) with a new unseen and slow-moving chemical violence.76 Chemicals hand in hand with radiation. In beginning the book with a fable—“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings”—Carson demonstrated that the strange and dangerous world she was trying to map could not be apprehended through data alone.77 It needed to be made familiar though a narrative set at the border of life and death that engaged directly with nonhuman agency. By including chemicals and radiation as equal partners in the destabilisation of the human planet, Carson challenged distinctions between nature, material, human, nonhuman, the natural, and the supernatural. The three geos collapsed. The photographic images gathered by Taryn Simon and rendered live on a server remain frozen in time and space, and yet literally fade from view. Both Simon’s photographic archive and the Yonetani’s Crystal Palace represent a new kind of material object, one that is made from chemical elements. The abstractions of the Anthropocene compel cultural theorist McKenzie Wark to write: “Our permanent legacy will not be architectural, but chemical. After the last dam bursts, after the concrete monoliths crumble into the lone and level sands, modernity will leave behind a chemical signature, in everything from radioactive waste to atmospheric carbon. This work will be abstract, not figurative.”78 For Wark, the definition of abstraction is entangled within the event itself rather than figuring it, pointing to it. Metaphorical not analogical. This metaphor evolves in time and space, it fragments as soon as it is understood. The Anthropocene proposition means that directly engaging the human geologic force also means thinking of future ecologies where the planet is made unfamiliar. It might be that a toxic planet leads to a distrust of nature. Abstraction as dust. Distrust. And with this realisation, writing and thought fall apart. Think back to Rachel Carson’s fable. Carson continues, “Some evil spell had settled on the community.”79 The story progresses: “Everywhere was a shadow of death … It was a spring without voices.”80 Silent Spring doubles its fallout, both as metaphor and actual description. It is a silent spring because the animals, (and by implications the humans too) have died. The deaths have gone unheard and unnoticed. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.81
Acceleration 133 As an Anthropocenic allegory, Carson materialises a world that is at risk of great loss. In the same way Norrie, et al., Moon and Jeon, the Don’t Follow the Wind curatorial collective, and Ken + Julia Yonetani tell stories that materialise natural environments that are forever transformed. This chapter has journeyed around the ring of fire, across the watery Pacific and within the ongoing Fukushima disaster. These artworks tell the stories we need to hear. What transforms in my retelling is the description of nature. When interviewed, Ryuta Ushiro and Elle from Chim↑Pom reiterate that to be able to narrate the stories of the catastrophe of Fukushima is a necessity. They reflect on the contemporary world, and all that is in it. RYUTA USHIRO:
I was sleeping and I thought “It has finally come … on TV, I saw unbelievable footage that I’d never seen in my whole life, such as images of the Tsunami, and people dying left and right on the screen. Things like that were on live news, in real time, and I was shocked. … At the time of the Fukushima disaster, many artists felt incompetent in a way, they expressed how powerless art is in the face of disaster. We felt the same way, but we’d only confirm that if we didn’t do anything. And I felt that it was necessary to record what we can do as an artist, at that moment. ELLE: When everything stopped functioning properly, what artists created at time like that, would mean a lot, when looking back from 50 years, 100 years, 200 years in the future, it will seem nonsensical not to have created something in response.82 Ushiro and Elle strategically fold time and space. They imagine a future art audience, one that would be incredulous that we made no record, that there might be nothing to see. The future audience cannot believe we did not respond. And the current audience cannot believe the images that are before us. T. J. Demos explains that this is, however, neither “nuclear-war exterminism” nor “contemporary eco-catastrophism”; these works take us somewhere else.83 There is, in Demos’ formulation, an interesting opposition between a Cold War nuclear fear where humans still retain agency and a semblance of control over time, and what Demos calls the “current situation” where just being a part of the everyday leads to the accelerations of the Anthropocene.84 Each of the works discussed in this chapter engage with this tension between the everyday, now-time, and the future dream-time. Cold War fear is not far behind, as a planetary view has shown that the natural and the technological are no longer at arms-reach. But what (or where) is the future dream-time of the Anthropocene? Is there a distant future in which “the Anthropocene could ever be declared over?”85 At Fukushima, everything remains coated in the dust of grief and anger. We are back with Klee’s angel. We cannot know what an afterlife of 30,000 years might offer us. In the exclusion zone, historical and geological timescales overlap. The closer we try to look, the less we can see. Yet somewhere not so very far from here, a cube glows, and a small server transmits images from a nonhuman place back to the people who took them. Nature is still here, it is just multiple, contaminated. As Australian philosopher Astrida Neimanis says, “We must learn to be at home in the quivering tension of the in- between. No other home is available.”86 The planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene involve constantly switching registers. The concept of the Anthropocene expands our “view of Nature to the planet.”87 Post-human, more-than-human, nonhuman—these terms point to an allegorical impulse, a need to keep inventing more words, as if
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134 Acceleration more words will help us get out of this mess. Allegories perform a different aesthetics where interdisciplinary knowledges that draw on geological and biological sciences describe the visual world. Anthropocene allegories entangle the analytic and the critical within an embodied image, and offer a way of knowing the world amidst catastrophe. Allegorical works “are grounded in the planetary, yet play with the poetics and aesthetics of storytelling.”88 These visual narratives use allegory to visually define an expanded sense of nature as planetary. In this, allegorical artworks are not just stories, they are site-specific. And, as the quietly spoken voice of Yoshimaru Higa in Susan Norrie’s Transit shows, without stories and artworks (memory), people lose connections to the place they are from. Hope and hopelessness are too much of an ancient ouroboros suffocating as they cycle around and around. Instead, we need a different emotional allegory for the Anthropocene, one that is more like the motion of the tides. A planetary aesthetics that allows space for grief.
Notes 1 Deborah Bird Rose, “Shimmer: When All You Love is Being Trashed,” in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, edited by Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 52. 2 Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction, 93. 3 Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. 4 Van Dooren, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction, 283. 5 Walter Benjamin, “Thesis on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zorn, ed. Hannah Arendt (London: Random House, 2011), 249. 6 Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (New York and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 393. 7 Christof Mauch, “Slow Hope: Rethinking Ecologies of Crisis and Fear,” RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society no. 1 (2019): 12. doi.org/ 10.5282/rcc/8556. 8 Kate Wright, Transdisciplinary Journeys in the Anthropocene: More- than- human Encounters (New York: Routledge, 2016), 12. 9 Val Plumwood, “A review of Deborah Bird Rose’s ‘Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation,” Australian Humanities Review 1 (August 2007): 1. http:// australianhumanitiesreview.org/2007/08/01/a-review-of-deborah-bird-roses-reports-from- a-wild-country-ethics-for-decolonisation/. 10 In Gabriella Coslovich, “Of Gods and Monsters,” The Age, 1 November, 2002. www. theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/of-gods-and-monsters-20021101-gduqv1. html. 11 Christine Eriksen and Susan Ballard, Alliances in the Anthropocene: People, Plants and Fire (London: Palgrave Pivot, London, 2020), 108. In Chapter 6, we discuss Norrie’s work alongside that of Yhonnie Scarce in the context of nuclear testing and disaster. 12 Juliana Engberg, “Rewind: Susan Norrie: Undertow,” ACCA, Sydney: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, (2002). https://acca.melbourne/ explore/text/acca-history/. 13 Richard Davies and Michael Manga, “A Mud Volcano has been Erupting for Ten Years— and scientist are still undecided what caused it,” The Conversation 18 July, 2017. https:// theconversation.com/a-mud-volcano-has-been-erupting-for-ten-years-and-scientists-are- still-undecided-what-caused-it-80827. 14 Anto Mohsin, “The Sidoarjo Mudflow and the Muddiness of an Environmental Disaster,” Arcadia no. 5 (Spring 2017) Environment and Society Portal, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, https://doi.org/10.5282/rcc/7767.
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Acceleration 135 15 Susan Norrie, Susan Norrie Field Work 2006–2016, Kelly Gellatly, curator (Melbourne: Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne, 2016), 37. 16 Norrie, Susan Norrie Field Work, 36. 17 Kathryn Yusoff, “Epochal Aesthetics: Affectual Infrastructures of the Anthropocene,” Eflux Journal, Accumulation (29 March, 2017) www.e-flux.com/architecture/accumulation/121847/epochal-aesthetics-affectual-infrastructures-of-the-anthropocene/. 18 Yusoff, “Epochal Aesthetics.” 19 Yusoff, “Epochal Aesthetics.” 20 Larissa Hjorth, “Susan Norrie: Field Work 2006–2016,” Artlink (4 May 2016) www. artlink.com.au/articles/4453/susan-norrie-field-work-2006–2016/. 21 Susan Norrie, “I’m interested in life and politics,” Tate, 2018, YouTube, www.youtube. com/watch?v=ADGc3Z4OLSc. 22 Norrie, “I’m interested in life and politics.” 23 Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 5. 24 Van Dooren, “Life at the Edge of Extinctinon,” np. 25 Walter Benjamin, “To the Planetarium,” in One Way Street and Other Writings, trans. J. A. Underwood, (London: Penguin, 2009), 58. 26 Benjamin, “To the Planetarium,” 58. 27 Benjamin, “To the Planetarium,” 58. Australian media theorist Douglas Kahn observes how the planet became understood “at earth magnitude” throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and reads Benjamin’s material shift from the cinema to the cosmos as one in which “the magnitude of the earth performs.” Douglas Kahn, Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts (San Francisco: University of California Press, 2013), 78. 28 Colin N. Waters, James P. M. Syvitski, Agnieszka Gałuszka, Gary J. Hancock, Jan Zalasiewicz, Alejandro Cearreta, Jacques Grinevald, et al. “Can Nuclear Weapons Fallout Mark the Beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 71, no. 3 (May 2015): 46–57. doi:10.1177/0096340215581357 29 Paul Robbins, “Choosing Metaphors for the Anthropocene: Cultural and Political Ecologies,” in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Cultural Geography, eds. Nuala Johnson, Richard Schein and Jamie Winders (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) doi:10.1002/ 9781118384466.ch27 30 Kathryn Yusoff and Jennifer Gabrys, “Climate Change and the Imagination,” WIREs Climate Change, 2 (2011): 517. doi:10.1002/wcc.117 31 Waters, Syvitski, Gałuszka, et al., “Can Nuclear Weapons Fallout Mark the Beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch?” 32 As a non-name or placeholder, et al. suggests a positioning of the artists as collective critics outside the geo-political structures of the cultural object they might create. Et al. explain that the Latin abbreviation “and others” is neither masculine nor feminine and is always used in the plural to refer to a number of people. Various iterations of the collective have used numerous monikers including l. budd (now redefined as an estate), blanche readymade, popular productions, lionel b., and p.mule who continues to practice. Since 2000 et al. has encompassed and included all previous incarnations of the collective. See https://etal.name/. 33 Brian O’Dougherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (Santa Monica and San Francisco: The Lapis Press, 1976). 34 France was not the only nation to test in the Pacific. The United States of America carried out a massive nuclear testing program on Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls in the northern Marshall Islands of Micronesia (renamed the Pacific Proving Grounds) from 1946 to 1962; the British army undertook nuclear weapons tests on Kiritimati (or Christmas) Island,
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136 Acceleration between May 1957 and September 1958, and again in 1962 in cooperation with the US. See Michelle Keown, “Waves of Destruction: Nuclear Imperialism and Anti-nuclear Protest in the Indigenous Literatures of the Pacific,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 54, no. 5 (2018): 585–600, doi: 10.1080/17449855.2018.1538660 35 Jamie Tahana, “The Battle Continues, 50 years after first test at Mururoa,” Radio New Zealand 4 July 2016. www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/307804/the-battle-continues,- 50-years-after-first-test-at-mururoa. 36 Miriam Kahn, “Tahiti Intertwined: Ancestral Land, Tourist Postcard, and Nuclear Test Site,” American Anthropologist 102, no. 1 (March 2000): 17. 37 Tahana, “The Battle Continues.” Tahana quotes Winiki Sage, the president of the Economic, Social and Cultural Committee of French Polynesia: “All the Tahitians were led to believe that it would be safe … I can tell you that in the house of my grandmother there was a nice picture of a big nuclear bomb test, and everybody was thinking it was something nice. We didn’t really know that it was something bad for us.” 38 Kahn, “Tahiti Intertwined,” 22. 39 Kahn, “Tahiti Intertwined,” 22. 40 Tahana, “The Battle Continues.” 41 Gregory Burke and Natasha Conland, et al. Venice Document: et al., the fundamental practice (Wellington: Creative New Zealand, 2006), 115. 42 Malcolm Templeton, Standing Upright: New Zealand in the Nuclear Age 1945–1990 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2006), 339. 43 Et al. in Burke, Conland, et al. Venice Doucment, 110. 44 Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) (2012). 45 Moon and Jeon, El Fin Del Mundo. 46 Jeon Joonho in Fosco Lucarelli, “dOCUMENTA 13: News from Nowhere by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho [a Retrospective from the Future]” Socks Journal 7 August, 2012. http://socks-studio.com/2012/08/07/documenta-13-news-from-nowhere-by-moon- kyungwon-jeon-joonho-a-retrospective-from-the-future/. 47 Demos, Decolonising Nature, 8. 48 Moon and Jeon’s News From Nowhere takes its name from a novel written in 1890, by designer, and utopian pioneer William Morris. Morris’ protagonist, William Guest, wakes after a lengthy sleep to find himself in a world very different from his own. The story is set sometime after the 1950s and maybe in the twenty-first century, possibly today. Guest immerses himself in a river only to find that when he re-emerges the world has changed around him. Morris’ future world is one where the filth and grime of England’s industrial revolution has been replaced by clean and clear water, and people live in harmony with nature. Morris uses the trope of river crossing to imagine a new future, outside of his own industrial reality, where people have the chance to live within an autonomous and interconnected universe. The poetics are those of a slow-moving embodied pleasure. William Morris, News From Nowhere or An Epoch of Rest, Being Some Chapters From a Utopian Romance (London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908). 49 Moon and Jeon in Lucarelli, “dOCUMENTA 13.” 50 Moon and Jeon in Lucarelli, “dOCUMENTA 13.” 51 Lauren Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene: Presenting Humans as a Geological Force,” Geographical Research 53, no. 3 (August 2015): 280–287. 52 Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene,” 280. 53 Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene,” 280. 54 Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene,” 281. 55 Alice Deignan, Elena Semino and Shirley-Anne Paul, “Metaphors of Climate Science in Three Genres: Research Articles, Educational Texts and Secondary School Student Talk,” Applied Linguistics 40, no. 2 (2019): 381.
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Acceleration 137 56 Steven Smith, James Edmonds, Corinne Hartin, et al., “Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change,” Nature Climate Change 5 (2015): 333–336. https://doi 10.1038/ NCLIMATE2552. 333. 57 John Woinarski, Brendan Wintle, Chris Dickman, et al., “A season in hell: bushfires push at least 20 threatened species closer to extinction,” The Conversation, 8 January, 2020. https://theconversation.com/a-season-in-hell-bushfires-push-at-least-20-threatened- species-closer-to-extinction-129533. 58 Yukiya Amano, “The Fukushima Daiichi Accident: report by the Director General,” GC(59)/14, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Vienna, Austria, 2015. www- pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1710-ReportByTheDG-Web.pdf. 59 Amano, “The Fukushima Daiichi Accident,” 1. 60 Jean-Luc Nancy, After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 4. 61 Peter K. Haff, “Technology as a Geological Phenomenon: Implications for Human Well- being,” in A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, eds. Colin Waters, Jan Zalasiewicz, et al. (London: Geological Society of London, 2014), 301–309. 62 Nancy, After Fukushima, 34. 63 Taro Nettleton, “Don’t Follow the Wind,” ArtReview Asia 4, no. 1 (29 March 2016). https://artreview.com/feature-ara-jan-16-dont-follow-the-wind/. 64 Nancy, After Fukushima, 3. 65 See www.dontfollowthewind.info/. 66 Jason Waite, Personal Correspondence, 15 August, 2020. 67 Alan Gleason, “Don’t Follow the Wind: Nuclear Non-Visitor Centre for a Post-Fukushima World,” Artscape Japan (2015) www.dnp.co.jp/artscape/eng/ht/1511.html. 68 Jonathan Jones, “Apocalypse no! Why artists should not go into the Fukushima exclusion zone,” The Guardian 21 July, 2015. www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/ jonathanjonesblog/2015/jul/20/fukushima-exclusion-zone-art-politics. 69 Creators Project, Radioactive Art in Fukushima: Don’t Follow the Wind YouTube, 23 September, 2015. www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWN7d4pBqTs. 70 Jason Waite in Nettleton, “Don’t Follow the Wind.” 71 Theron Schmidt “What Kind of Work is this? Performance and Materialisms in the Gallery,” Performance Paradigm 13 (2017): 7–28. 72 Creators Project, Radioactive Art in Fukushima. 73 Melanie Pocock, “Another Dream: Ken + Julia Yonetani,” in Ken + Julia Yonetani (Saint- Ouen-l’Aumone: Abbaye de Maubuisson, 2015), 17. 74 Creators Project, Radioactive Art in Fukushima. 75 Eric Sevareid quoted in Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2011), 10. 76 Carson, Silent Spring, 6. 77 Carson, Silent Spring, 1. 78 McKenzie Wark, “Blue Ruin: Totality and Acceleration,” Public Seminar 6 March, 2014. https://publicseminar.org/2014/03/blue-ruin-totality-and-acceleration/. 79 Carson, Silent Spring, 2. 80 Carson, Silent Spring, 2. 81 Carson, Silent Spring, 2. 82 Creators Project, Radioactive Art in Fukushima. 83 Demos, Decolonising Nature, 246. 84 Demos, Decolonising Nature, 246. 85 Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene,” 283. 86 Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water,” in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and
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138 Acceleration Practice, ed. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 93. 87 Rickards, “Metaphor and the Anthropocene,” 281. 8 Liz Linden and Susan Ballard, “Art Writing, and Allegory, in the Anthropocene,” October 8 175 (Winter 2021, forthcoming).
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5 Moving Beyond Geology
Ecologies The news report begins: On 28 August 1999, in the small beach town of Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, artist Aleksandra Mir made history, becoming the first woman to set foot on the surface of the moon.1 It is true, in some senses. Amidst the hype of the 30th anniversary of the moon landing, Dutch artist Aleksandra Mir commenced a project to be the first woman on the moon—First Woman on the Moon (28 August 1999). On the white sands of the flat coastal beach on the edge of the North Sea, Mir collaborated with workers from the local steel factory to construct a lunar landscape. As the sun set, and accompanied by a fashionably attired crew, she scaled the highest mound and planted an American flag. The sounds of celebratory drumming filled the air before the diggers moved in and the lunar landscape was flattened back into the beach. The story, like all stories, is a little more complex than at first appears. Wijk ann Zee is a popular artificial beach, constructed for leisure at the entry of the North Sea Canal. Reclaimed from wetlands and surrounded by light and heavy industry, it is a tourist destination known for its clean and fine white sands. All this history is visible in Mir’s work. An imagined, yet, real, lunar landscape has been constructed in front of wind turbines and smokestacks. Throughout the video cruise ships pass, curious tourists, children, and beach goers cheer the activities on, and power plants belch emissions into the atmosphere. What at first seems a low-budget artist’s folly, is soon exposed to have major corporate sponsorship directly connecting this event with the one it sought to commemorate. In the carefully crafted soundtrack provided by Hasselblad Sweden (official providers of camera equipment to NASA), we listen to recorded transmissions between NASA mission control and astronauts who have circled and walked on the moon. We hear Michael Collins on a space walk from Gemini 10: “Houston, I lost my EVA Hasselblad inadvertently, I’m sorry to say.” The controller replies: “ok, get back in.” In the video, Mir reports directly to the camera only once, when she is seen with her own Hasselblad slung casually over her shoulder thanking them for the sponsorship. The camera and documentation add authenticity to both events. We hear descriptions of the weather and storms witnessed from space as the hazard tape is unrolled and the diggers get to work. Drivers (who usually deal in waste management)
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140 Moving Beyond Geology sculpt the sand. They improvise a 300-metre-square lunar landscape.2 On earth, on the beach, everyone is dreaming of an escape to the moon. There is nothing fake about this moon landing. Mir’s performative allegorical method generates a continual shifting of scale that takes the place of other stories. On Mir’s website is a long list of invitations to present at scientific conferences about space and space travel. When the hazard tape is cut and a group of five women dressed in bleached white cotton uniforms ascend the highest mound with an entourage of small children, Mir demonstrates how the presence of humans on the moon is a direct reflection of the geological force of humans on the planet. First, they sculpt the surface of the earth according to their own desires, and their belief in how it should look, and then in a gesture recognised the world-over they lay claim to the shore—silencing all previous habitations with a flag. Deliberately underwhelming, Mir offers a counter to the dominant bombastic apocalyptic imagery of the Anthropocene. Mir’s moonscape offers a close-up view of planet Earth. There are other moments that point to this work as an allegory important to our understanding of the Anthropocene. As Mir consults maps and draws a model in the sand, her gestures recall Robert Smithson working with bulldozer drivers to construct Spiral Jetty in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. The maps, the conversations, the bleaching sun, and the wry smile from a worker all map across time. Spiral Jetty was concurrent with the moon landing. Thirty years later, the allegorical impulse, identified at the time by art historian Craig Owens, continues to fragment relationships between the artwork and its site.3 Yet, in Mir’s work the text is found off-site; it is a woman on the moon. Smithson worked with the biological and geological elements present in the Great Salt Lake (salt, algae, basalt etc.) to create a work that extended beyond its site and into film and written texts. He wrote: “The names of minerals and the minerals themselves do not differ from each other, because at the bottom of both the material and the print is the beginning of an abysmal number of fissures.”4 Listening to Mir’s soundtrack we hear that the dust on the moon is “very very fine grained if you get close to it, its almost like a powder … beautiful … beautiful” as a child digs with a spade in the base of a beach crater flinging sand over his shoulder. This entanglement of geological materiality with language is the layering of the planetary aesthetics of the Anthropocene. Everything is at once site and nonsite, and a moon landing on a beach in the Netherlands reflects everything there is to know about our planet. Mir points to a time beyond our present. A time when women might walk on the moon, and until this future is realised, Mir has a role as an inspirational conference speaker. In First Woman on the Moon, geological materials have shifted in time and space and been bought back down to earth. It raises the question, where are the planetary boundaries of the Anthropocene? There are other works that tell similar stories. If enough people, say 500, can stand in a line with their shovels at the ready they can shift a mountain. In 2002, an attempt was made on the outskirts of a town in Peru. The relics of Francis Alÿs’ performative and participatory work When Faith Moves Mountains (2002) are a video of the day, and a postcard. The postcard shows a long line of people, stretched across a small brown mountainside, all wearing clean white shirts, their shovels dusty, but new. Peering into the still image we witness the mountain as it was displaced (maybe by up to 10 centimetres). We know that it has happened. Humans have become a geological force, collectively.
Moving Beyond Geology 141 Somewhere else, only a little earlier in the history of the planet, a woman decided to plant a wheat field. In May 1982, a two-acre field of golden wheat appeared on top of what was previously rubble and landfill at Battery Park, in downtown Manhattan, New York. In the distant background of the photographs of planting and harvesting are the twin towers of the World Trade Center; until 2001, the centre of global capital and exchange. Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield—A Confrontation (1982) also had many global lives; the wheat was harvested and transported around the world as part of an exhibition called “The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger” (1987– 1990). And the image of the wheat field lives on in iconic photographs of Denes standing rake in hand in the middle of the field of bobbing, glowing yellow wheat. Not so far from there, another artist, Betty Beaumont was creating Ocean Landmark (1978–1980). Beaumont transformed 500 tons of coal-waste into 17,000 coal fly-ash blocks and sunk them to the floor of the Atlantic off the coast of Long Island, New York, creating a sustainable underwater garden for marine life. This large-scale reclamation project is still there, living, evolving, 40 years later. To present it in the gallery Beaumont exhibited a video and photographs as well as a scale model of the blocks, as Amanda Boetzkes writes “Ocean Landmark can be appreciated not through the pleasure of natural beauty, but rather through reflection on the concealed natural activity that exceeds vision and requires the use of a host of tactics to bring it into view.”5 These are works that fit a practice of ecological art that has its legacies in the Land Art movement, and its currency in recent clusters of exhibitions and projects focused on climate change. They are works that directly engage with ecology as nature. But they all do something more than simply illustrate ecological concerns, they also move away from a direct relationship with nature—whether dug, planted, floated, modelled, visualised, illustrated, sonified, or photographed—and engage with the energetic and ecological transformations wrought by humans on the planet in the name of capital. Through photographs and videos, they move these concerns from environmental sites to the nonsite of the art gallery. These are works influenced by the critical writings of Robert Smithson and Lucy Lippard that take on board the challenges of art created within the contexts of a geological life. They each, in very different ways, insert the human into nature, as part of the environment. The works also leave human traces behind. And in this, they do much more than represent ecological concerns, they stretch at the boundaries of the Anthropocene and place the challenge of humans, our labours, our capital, at the centre of it. Planetary aesthetics names this relationship between nature and art, in order to address the collective relationships that we now name the Anthropocene. In the last paragraph of Death of a Discipline, Gayatri Spivak writes: “The ‘planet’ is, here, as always perhaps, a catachresis for inscribing collective responsibility as right. Its alterity, determining experience, is mysterious and discontinuous—an experience of the impossible.”6 Spivak argues that even in the Anthropocene when we have made epoch changing impacts on the earth system, humans continue to act as if there is something specific about being human: something to do with species and fixity, rather than alterity. In this book, I have worked to grasp the impossible planet Spivak names, by travelling in time and space away from the controlled environments of botanical gardens at the centre of Europe to the fresh air of the island of Tuvalu in the midst of Moana Oceania, and onwards to Chernobyl and Fukushima; from a foggy industrial London to an unbreathable forest haze in Central Kalimantan; and up from
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142 Moving Beyond Geology the bird-inhabited Auckland Islands off the wild Antarctic coast of Aotearoa New Zealand to witness the mammals clinging to the disappearing sea ice of the Arctic circle. Human activity on the planet has left none of these sites or species untouched. Planetary thought has moved my discussion away from human-, plant-, river-, or animal-rights, and towards an understanding of interconnected systems outside of the black boxes used to justify colonial and capitalist ignorance and exploitation. The challenge of planetary aesthetics has been to highlight the ways that art entangles nature in the Anthropocene.7 The Anthropocene has resulted in a planetary environment in which human and nonhuman, nature and ecology are bound together. Furthermore, the “material agency, material constraints, and material exclusions” of energy, have challenged fixed boundaries between humans, nature and ecology.8 Quantum physicist Karen Barad observes, [We] are always already responsible to the others with whom or which we are entangled, not through conscious intent, but through the various ontological entanglements that materiality entails … Ethics is therefore not about right response to a radically exterior/ized other, but about responsibility and accountability for the lively relationalities of becoming of which we are a part.9 To be a geological force is to maintain an ethical responsibility for the planet. Barad argues that “ethics is not a concern we add to the questions of matter, but rather is the very nature of what it means to matter.”10 She describes the way that scientists stabilise closed spaces (known as black boxing) in order to understand the parameters of the planet. By knotting ethical and scientific responsibilities together, she challenges the way the world is seen via these apparatus. In discovering what it means to matter in the Anthropocene, we find ourselves surrounded by cosmic magnetic rays and quietly earnest scientists, together gently sensing the ecological weight and time of energy and nature. British artists collective Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) enfold these human ecologies of the social and environmental within the sites of the gallery. In doing so, they suggest that by transforming the social, cultural, and political structures and materials within which we live, humans have left traces on our environment that can be harnessed as a means to consider the future of the planet. Semiconductor relocate these traces into the artwork’s systems and materials. Their early single channel video works Magnetic Movie (2007, Figure 5.1) and Do You Think Science… (2006) mapped the observations of scientists and their descriptions of the physical make-up of the earth. In Magnetic Movie, scientists at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley, California quietly describe the physical behaviours of magnetic forces. It quickly becomes apparent that their descriptions are not just metaphorical. “Hairballs” dance from one surface to another, a tangle of white “threads” suddenly erupts from the desk surface, reaching around the room, and touching the walls, before escaping out a window. By visualising the worlds seen by scientists inside the lab, Magnetic Movie pushes at physical understandings of dimensionality and duration. Semiconductor renders sensory understandings of the chemical and physical structures of the planet visible. Seeing these invisible forces enables an energetic transformation that encompasses the geological. The possibilities suggested are at once confusing and didactic: is that really what particles do? Is this
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Moving Beyond Geology 143
Figure 5.1 Semiconductor, Magnetic Movie (2007). Single-channel HD video, 4:47 minutes. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
what humans do too? Semiconductor’s parallel work Do You Think Science... goes some way to answering these questions. Asking scientists about the limits of human knowledge, and the spaces of quantum entanglement, enfolds the scientist within the phenomena they are observing. It becomes apparent that for scientists who embrace a critical ethics in their work, the language, the metaphors, and allegories that are used to communicate this work are essential. Magnetic Movie and Do You Think Science... open black boxes. They push viewers to question what we know about the physical make-up of the planet. In forcing an attention on the apparatus, their work shifts the background situation of the experiment to the foreground.11 This is how planetary entanglement feels; where processes that are not analogical start to impact and reform our definitions of the planet and everything on it. Something cannot be an analogue, or “like,” something else if it is entangled within it; equally, something cannot be separate to something else if it is entangled. Instead of maintaining discrete boundaries between humans and nature, this approach addresses the “impossible fact that humans are both ‘in’ and ‘of’ nature, both are and are not the outside.”12 That this integrated relationship raises problems for the notion of being in, representing or defending nature is the point, for in the logic of the Anthropocene we are already a geological force. In “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” Will Steffen et al. argue that to fully understand the key questions of the future trajectories of the earth system, “requires a deep integration of knowledge from biogeophysical Earth System science with that from the social sciences and humanities on the development and functioning of human societies.”13 Bringing together earth systems and social and cultural understandings means, they argue, that we can begin to understand planetary thresholds. Here, the words that are used are critical. Thresholds, tipping points, and
144 Moving Beyond Geology the tension between “hothouse Earth” pathways and “stabilised earth” pathways are critical to their argument.14 It is here that Barad’s allegory of entanglement demonstrates how it is essential to bring our considerations of ecology, capital, and geology together with art to generate a planetary aesthetics. Earth systems and ecologies are at a scale it is difficult to fully visualise. I cannot think of them as an apparatus and the Anthropocene as an experiment. Yet, in the earth system the background extinction rate has changed, as has the background warming rate, as has the chemical makeup of the oceans as they warm and acidify. We group these multiple events together and name them “climate change.” It is the activities of humans in the foreground that have contributed to this transformation. So the real question becomes: if we can no longer prevent the changes happening in the background, what can we do in the foreground?—In that space we have previously called nature. In 2016, Semiconductor created Earthworks (2016, Figure 5.2) a five-channel computer generated animation controlled by surround sound. The work is projected onto an enormous continuous wall that snakes its way across the gallery space, blocking off the usual polygons of the gallery and reforming their scale. Earthworks approaches the visual and sonic entanglement of humans and geology. On one level, the work presents a visual interpretation of analogue seismography. This technique enables scientists to simulate tectonic forces. Coloured layers of sand are placed in a glass box and then gradually disturbed by pressure and motion. This model presents a visual sense of the unseen forces that continually form and reform the planet. Semiconductor entangle the analogue with digital data gathered from the formation of landscapes
Figure 5.2 Semiconductor, Earthworks (2016). Five-channel computer generated animation with four channel surround sound. Reproduced courtesy of the artists.
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Moving Beyond Geology 145 around the world. The work translates the digital waveforms gathered from these global sensing networks into audio that forms both the soundtrack as well as the method of controlling the motion of the animation. There are four movements to the work; each using a different set of seismic data. First glacial, the earliest, the slowest, followed by the shattering and upheaval of earthquakes. After this comes the immediacy and surprise of volcanic data—an explosive force impossible to predict, and yet carefully monitored. Lastly, Semiconductor include the human: seismic activity captured at La Planta quarry in Spain.15 Time scales are also disturbed. In the nineteenth century, glaciers were used to mark slow time (their rapid disappearance today marks Anthropocenic time). In Earthworks, the scientific apparatuses that are used to measure the living and active phenomena of the planet themselves become visual representations of the planet’s seismicity. We witness strata being laid down and distorted. We imagine hearing the crackle of floods of lava, and the stillness of seismic waves that seem to mimic those found in marble. In Earthworks, the experience becomes one of chasing a series of constantly changing ecological moments that are just beyond the perceptible. Folding, slower, faster, greater, larger, longer, the Earth is rendered a geoaesthetic body. Error creeps in. Gaps are left for viewers to introduce misreadings of scale, space, and apprehension. Despite the use of sophisticated image mapping and sound engineering, the work appears to be constructed from invented technologies both analogue and digital. Semiconductor examine the remnants of the human left within the geological and introduce new artefacts left behind as future records of the age of the Anthropocene. Their practice is one of tracing universal fictions formed from human activities and geological artefacts for the future. Semiconductor present the Anthropocene as a challenge to enlightenment divisions between natural sciences and human sciences. They show us that we can no longer maintain neat ontological divides. On screen, we witness an entanglement with the nonhuman world, one in which it is impossible to keep nature and culture, our models and our imagination, apart. This is not news to many. The equation of capital plus ecology plus geology adds up to an understanding of the Anthropocene that cannot simply be marked in sediment. The traces of capital are more than sedimentary or atmospheric, and they are not laid down in neat lines. For as soon as we lay a line down, we dig it up.
Energy In the Holocene, the study of geology involved the analysis, measurement, and recording of the physical structure and substance of the earth, the histories of the continual movements of these structures, and the processes which act upon them. It was a science established by Europeans intent on naming and structuring the planet, everyone and everything on it. When one species is named a geological force, the fixing of these complex cycles of geological interaction begin to shift scale. Not all forces have equal impacts, and neither do people. As Cecilia Åsberg argues, the problem of casting humanity as a “single geological force, a major natural force, and one folding in on itself” is that this hides the differences between humans themselves, and our very different relationships with the environment, sense of place, technology, and other species.16 To name the Anthropos a geological force is a shorthand that redefines what the human is in space and time, but that also points to a geological underpinning for all habitation on the planet. Art historian Bridie Lonie says: “the concept of
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146 Moving Beyond Geology the Anthropocene tests epistemological frameworks and limits as we negotiate what is simultaneously a new geological era, a new episteme and a new subjectivity.”17 In the Anthropocene, humans are not just responsible for geological, climactic, and biological transformations of the planet but also how we behave within them. Understanding the human as a geological force implies humans have a similarity to things like rivers, the wind, or volcanoes. These are some of the material forces that change, transform, and manipulate material relationships on the planet. Rather than being geological sediment, we are the creatures that continually disturb and distribute that sediment. Furthermore, the Earth’s strata are not really laid down in neat straight lines. They are folded by earthquakes, eroded by wind and water, transformed by fire, and extracted by humans. Kathryn Yusoff explains that in the context of the Anthropocene, metaphor folds the geological “into existing models of the biopolitical.”18 How might we invest in a planetary aesthetics that traces the flows, breath, and movements of the mineral and geological and place this as part of our social and cultural landscapes? Earthquakes and volcanos are geological forces; major forces not just of destruction but of the movements and upheavals that continually shape and reshape the world. These transformations fold our ways of understanding the world into the geological. This is why it is important to note that geology is not the only human mode of operation, and not all geology is ours to manipulate. Humans may be afforded a huge amount of power within the frameworks of the Anthropocene, but we are not absolute, nor should we be. Visualising these geological forces is the task of planetary aesthetics. If we, in the humanities and arts, the artists and the writers, are to respond to earth systems change via concepts of planetary transformation, what do our responses look like? Elizabeth Grosz describes art as “geographical: it involves the earth and the movement of its qualities so that they may intensify the sensations of living beings with otherwise imperceptible forces.”19 Visual art is a powerful record of landscape and geology, but what if the landscape itself transforms before our very eyes? A concept of the environment articulated via earth systems remains relevant and critical, but what artists continual to grapple with is the manner in which this can be made visual, without becoming illustrative. One answer might come from Nigel Clark and Kathryn Yusoff who suggest that we need to “consider how social and political agency is both constrained and made possible by the forces of the earth itself.”20 The scale shifts again so that the vastness of geologic periods are balanced by the immensity of human ways of grasping at the dynamics of earth systems. In this book, I have sustained an argument that any practical engagement with aesthetics extends beyond definitions of nature to a consideration of humans as part of the planetary. The story has not been continuous but interrupted and transformed by various geological and biological events that have challenged me to pay attention. This final chapter seeks to trace these social and political agencies via the material transformations and interconnections of art objects that engage directly with the planetary forces of the Anthropocene. I’m interested in how humans and geology enter art practices. How are artists intensifying the sensation of being part of the planetary system? If we are indeed “on a par with” and thus equivalent to the “great forces of Nature” then what do these great geological forces look and feel like?21 To directly engage the human as a geologic force also means thinking about future ecologies when the planet has become once again unfamiliar, cosmic, surprising. One way to do this is to recognise geological forces as not just the movement of objects,
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Moving Beyond Geology 147 materials, and bodies on the planet, but instead as unseen energies that make up and record the planet’s life in the context of the broader universe. That is, geological forces describe the planet through energetic relations. A relational mapping of movement and materials, the dynamics of chemical and physical transformation, and the poetics of metaphor place an emphasis on the energies that connect humans and geology. Energies are stored, transferred, and witnessed in materials. Seismic waves are evidence of the inner world of the planet; electromagnetic waves carry the energy of the sun; and, since long before the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have been considered a necessary energy resource. All forms of energy are connected and mapped across spectrums. Everything that happens on the planet manifests through these energetic relationships between force and materials: vibrations, resonances, ripples in space and time. The shifting energies of the planet are recorded in our bodies, as well as in the earth’s climate and ecosystems. At an everyday level, bodies record the radiant energy of the sun and the geothermal energy of the earth. Kinetic energy and potential energy cross environmental thresholds meaning that the storage and exploitation of energy is at the core of the environmental impacts of the Anthropocene. If we divest from fossil fuels, access to the excesses of energy that we can use to fuel our lives needs to be sourced from somewhere else, in plants, maybe, or captured directly from the sun and stored in batteries potentially made from lead acid, lithium ion, and saltwater. The point is that these new energetic sources and storage methods are themselves resources drawn from the planet. So far, no off-world solutions have been found. Energy is sensed at the borders of the seen and the unseen; the heard and the unheard, the felt and the breeze only just caught on the skin. Furthermore, it suggests an approach to the Anthropocene that does not focus on human temporal scales but instead embraces the planetary scales of plate tectonics, volcanoes, meteor strikes, and the electromagnetic energies of the sun. In the work of Australian artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, this understanding of planetary connectivity reveals itself as a practice of “earthing” that moves beyond definitions of nature and geology to address the energetic sensations of the planet within the universe. Haines and Hinterding use video, scent, photography, interactive cameras, and objects such as very low frequency (VLF) antennae and ultrasonic speakers as tools for phenomenal sensing that introduce new geoaesthetic energies within the gallery space. For Haines and Hinterding, living amid the media geologies of the Anthropocene means reaching out to cosmic energies and listening carefully to the stories the planet has to tell. They harness energetic materials, the magnitude of which is not always visible, which means that sometimes inside their works we just have to pause and marvel at all the energy crisscrossing the planet. In Purple Rain (2004, Figure 5.3), Haines and Hinterding open up the broadcast spectrum to remind audiences how transmissions flow across and through material forces. Four large television antennas hang from the ceiling of a darkened room, capturing broadcast frequencies as they travel through the gallery. The antennas feed fluctuations into a custom-built “hacked” software running an algorithm that causes massive avalanches to crash across the surface of a video projection of a snow-covered alpine environment.22 The antennas co-create with the geological environment, making visible and sonic the magic of natural forces as the electromagnetic spectrum is seen to move mountains. Described by the artists as “a mountain falls through radio waves” Purple Rain is part energy collected off screen and made visual, and part visual image
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Figure 5.3 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Purple Rain (2004). Television antennas and receivers, computer, custom electronics, single- channel video projection, audio gate, mixing desk, 4 × television monitors, colour, live, and pre-recorded material. Installation view, Artspace Sydney, 2005. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy of the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
degraded by energy.23 The actual material disintegration of the alpine range is both random and time-dependent, reliant on the off-screen radio energy captured and held within the gallery. In a literal correspondence, the sound both causes and prevents the snow to fall. Hinterding calls the process of monitoring the terrestrial broadcast television frequencies through which these images and sounds were received, “fishing for pictures out of the sky.”24 In the gallery, the audience are within a sea of signal, fishing frequencies for a common speed and a familiar rhythm: grasping at an alpine environment that exists in a fixed geological time and space undisturbed by human flow. Haines describes Purple Rain: “I like its otherness even to us. It’s always producing. In New Zealand where we did a lot of the development, it sounded really melodic. In Sao Paulo, with lots more antennas, it [sounded] quite Techno. It had quite a percussive … bass to it.”25 Haines and Hinterding traverse divisions between the human and the known or imagined world and relocate the human into an ecological space that resonates with dynamic and cosmic planetary waves. Purple Rain manipulates the aesthetic dream of the Anthropocene. Electromagnetic signals construct a beautiful visual object, while simultaneously putting into place the destruction of that very same object. This is not a specific mountain but a generated amalgam of digital memories of mountain-like forms. The visual image is nothing more than information made visible and set into motion by the shifting surfaces of the broadcast waves, which corrupt and control its obedience to gravity.
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Figure 5.4 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Earth Star (2008). HD video projection, live sound from custom VLF antennas, graphite, and polyethylene-coated copper wire, audio filters, mixing desk, powered stereo speakers, 2 × ozone fragrances, Peltier refrigeration units, glass containers with paper smelling strips. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū 2017. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
The transmission waves that disturb the tranquillity of the mountain scene do so by mapping fluctuations in communication. This is testament to the unseen forces of nature. Hinterding comments that “we forget how powerful broadcast television is, and how many kilowatts of power are coming through the air … media images come to us with a literal huge force … changing the world.”26 By directing us to the electromagnetic spectrum that pervades the planet, Haines and Hinterding extend geological relationships between humans, media, and the environment out into the universe. In Earth Star (2008, Figures 5.4 and 5.5), the artists bring together live recordings of the VLF emitting from the surface of the sun, with composite video footage of the sun as viewed within the hydrogen-alpha range, and the synthesised scent of ozone. In Earth Star, the sun feels present; not distorted by waves of energy and unfathomable distance, but here, in the room. Haines and Hinterding offer us the source of the planet’s energy up close. Earth Star works to bring the sun closer by making its energy present across all the senses.27 The medium of the sun—energy—demands presence.28 Entering the dimly lit exhibition space is akin to stepping into a chapel where it is the energetic forces of the sun that are being worshipped. Artists Janine Randerson and Rachel Shearer have written about the frequencies emitted by this work, noting that “There is a visceral solar affect in Earth Star where we sense that the sun is alive and simultaneously
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Figure 5.5 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Earth Star (2008). HD video projection, live sound from custom VLF antennas, graphite, and polyethylene-coated copper wire, audio filters, mixing desk, powered stereo speakers, 2 × ozone fragrances, Peltier refrigeration units, glass containers with paper smelling strips. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, 2017. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
part of us.”29 Prostrate on two long untreated plywood tables are two long plastic pipes covered in tightly wound coils of copper wire and graphite that make up a pair of custom VLF antennae, underneath the antennae snake cables and amplifiers that emit unexpected sounds. The shiny copper coils are bodies tuned to the real time VLF waves emitted by the sun, and occupying the part of the “electromagnetic spectrum between 3 and 30kHz.”30 Hinterding continues “This part of the radio spectrum … is filled with all kinds of terrestrial and extraterrestrial noise, such as noise from the sun’s interaction with our atmosphere. This is also where the direct frequency correlation between the electromagnetic and sonic spectrums resides.”31 The two tables align with a suspended screen on which the living breathing image of the solar chromosphere has been caught by a hydrogen-alpha telescope. Along the wall are paper dipping sticks and beakers containing the aroma of ionisation. In the gallery, we hear the image of the sun, and taste the crackling energy of sferics as they pop. Everything is irradiated, including our own bodies, as we surf the broadcast energy of the sun. We hover on the hydrogen-alpha line where light and sound merge and we smell the sizzle of the spectrum. Tracing the contours of the sun by touching at a range of frequencies that oscillate at the edge of the perceptible, Earth Star allows us to do the forbidden, and look directly at the sun.
Moving Beyond Geology 151 Back on the planet, solar energies are felt as movements and relationships. These shared moments of energy transfer informed Gregory Bateson’s descriptions of organism and environment. I’ve quoted it earlier in this book, but here it is again in a new context: “The unit of survival is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself.”32 Bateson goes on: “Ecology, in the widest sense, turns out to be the study of the interaction and survival of ideas and programs (i.e., differences, complexes of differences, etc.) in circuits.”33 Ecology, in Bateson’s definition, is formed through multiple ways of sensing (and surviving) the earth system. It is a mode of being that he suggests has been lost due to enlightenment philosophies, such as those that generated the concept of the sublime (and for that matter, geology), that separated the mind from the environment. In order to redress this, Bateson suggests, we need to “take clues from the natural world.”34 Bateson’s point is that the natural world is a complex system of difference through which we form metaphors, and thus understand ourselves plus environment. His argument is that humans have forgotten how to do this. In Earth Star Haines and Hinterding offer tools through which we can sense both the earth and its star, the planet and the sun. By paying attention to relationships with the solar environment that determines all life on the planet, the sensing abilities of individual bodies expand to include a consideration of planetary survival. Standing in the cavernous gallery, my body hits the screen and I am in. Flying. Charting my direction with arms held wide. I’m floating over mountains; in one breath they are the Torlesse greywacke scree slopes of the Southern Alps, Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, in another, the limestone of Castle Hill. The land is fractured by the tussle of planetary forces. On the surface of the land, small spaces of light and frozen glacial lakes glisten. The alps rise and fall as they are pushed up by massive tectonic forces and pulled down again by gravity.35 In the sky, a flock of small cubes begin to migrate, clustering in valleys. As I approach, the black cubes in front of me bump together at any slight touch, they seem to want to avoid me. The artists have given them interactive dynamic collision detection. Everything shimmers with life. And then suddenly, I am sucked through the surface of a cube. It is bigger on the inside than the outside. A survey ship? In its cargo hold geological specimens float, their scale overwhelming the logic of their suspension. Carefully preserved within their optical anechoic labyrinth, the rocks float in a hive of individual compartments. It might be a laboratory or an alien boat (aliens being people whose boats have never been allowed to touch this part of the earth). I push my body against the rocks and feel the scratch of their surface against my skin. I search for fissures, small breaks in their surface that might let me take hold. And again, I sense the humming energy of the rocks. I trace their electromagnetic signatures back to sounds recorded by the artists in the Christchurch Art Gallery. I inhabit the perspective of the rock, no longer a human-sized body I slam myself against the edges. This multiplication of the viewer and the uncertainty of who is flying and who is watching is exhilarating. I rain down on the timber, the geometries resist and shatter. The white cube cannot contain everything there is to see. I am inside and back out. The energy folds and creases across the land and I am floating, witnessing a beautiful collapse.36 In September 2010, Christchurch New Zealand experienced the first of what was to be a sequence of over 16,000 earthquakes. The seismic sequence triggered by a 7.1
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Figure 5.6 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Geology (2015). Real-time 3D environment, 2 × HD projections, game engine, motion sensor, spatial 3D audio. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, supported by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Photograph by Christopher Snee. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
magnitude earthquake west of the city on 4 September 2010, and magnified by the more violent 6.3 aftershock, on 22 February 2011 remains ongoing and complex. Earthquakes are natural circuits of energy release. However, the release of energy in an earthquake is more than seismic. The impacts last on in our bodies through what New Zealand media theorist Zita Joyce calls “body energies” where the residual energy of the earthquake becomes an affective way of knowing and recognising a place.37 Throughout the Christchurch earthquake sequence, Joyce documented how artists stored the energy of the earthquakes in their bodies, the materials that surround them and their artworks. She writes: “All of these energies, the sonic, electromagnetic, and bodily, are small in the face of seismic immensity, but they enact human scale translations of those huge waves and their effects on our land, buildings, and memories.”38 Joyce describes the way that people learnt to live with constant and unpredictable geological movement. An earthquake shifts not only the land but also the way we imagine and locate ourselves culturally and socially within an environment. In 1965, Susan Sontag wrote about the “imagination of disaster”: our ability to fictionalise experience through photography, film and narrative.39 Her argument was that art served to both “reflect world-wide anxieties, and … allay them.”40 The Christchurch earthquakes taught us about connections between people and geology, the realisation and subsequent shock of a new phase of geological instability, and the emotional resonance of becoming part of the environment when both the environment and the people are forever changed.
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Moving Beyond Geology 153 This is what it means to be a geological force; like power, a force is not something that one holds, but something that is unpredictably and unequally distributed. Amidst the early sequence of aftershocks, Haines and Hinterding visited the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, which was closed to the public as it was being used as the Emergency Operating Centre and hub for the earthquake recovery. Haines and Hinterding collected electromagnetic field recordings from inside the gallery. As the earth settled into patterns of movement, Haines and Hinterding tracked bodies and energies in space. Initially uncertain about how to approach their gleanings and also respect the seismic experience of the city, they listened for geoenergies within the atmospheric rumbling. The result was Geology (2015 Figures 5.6 and 5.7), an immersive and interactive video installation that continued their earlier observations of the sun, and in turning to the earth, challenged any fixed understanding of planetary materiality; reminding us that all planetary matter, all geological forces, require activation and witness. In Geology, the electromagnetic recordings made during the earthquake aftershocks collapse distinctions between geology and media. The gathered field recordings encircle a room containing an enormous immersive interactive screen and offer a sublime immersion in a dynamic earth, formed by relations between humans, our living systems, and the planet. The artists describe Geology as “a virtual world that examines how culture interacts with chaotic forces.”41 Inside the gallery a visitor stands on a circle of black carpet and, using exaggerated gestures and movements read by a Microsoft Kinect motion controller, flies through the environment prospecting for minerals: “You are the controller.”42 The natural user interface of Kinect isolates the human body by breaking it down to a limited number of flexible joints and watching it continuously at 30 frames per second. We become known through angle and movement. Standing in front of Kinect is not a body, but twenty 3D data points. In Geology, the practice of co-creation through both geology and energy is further realised through the enormous immersive scale of the video. It reminds us that as humans we are in control of our movements, but only if we collaborate with the geological environment. Inside the work, it is never clear if we are travelling through a geological future past or a past future about to come. The experience is far from that of a specific earthquake, yet it also brings together the body, movement, and geology: energetic force transformed into geological sensation. I begin to wonder about the larger implications of what it means for humans to be a geological force. Geology is a new kind of immersive and geological landscape denuded of plant life and activated by humans. Haines and Hinterding map the seismic energies of the planet through close observation and detailed ecological fabulations. They have climbed in these mountains, and slept under these stars. This tracing of the geophysical productions of the planet engages art as an ethics by which humans and geology form temporary compositions; ways of being and living here amidst the Anthropocene. In Geology, the earth is rendered devoid of organic life, leaving only the machine and the minerals from which it has formed and yet, Geology is full of new ways of living, at once a destabilising experience and a meditative flight through the earthworks of geological time. It operates in layers, strata of experience that both mimic and undermine the way we know the earth. Geology is not just about geology; it is about how we perceive through layers of bodies; how energies transmit and move through material layers. Previously unseen and unheard relations of movement and time are established
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Figure 5.7 David Haines and Joyce Hinterding, Geology (2015). Real-time 3D environment, 2 × HD projections, game engine, motion sensor, spatial 3D audio. Installation view, Energies: Haines & Hinterding, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2015. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, supported by Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. © the artists. Reproduced courtesy the artists and Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
through provisional containment that leaks energy and space. Body energies flow across and through the screen. In this place, humans are a geological force. The earth is not solid, and strata are not laid down in straight lines. But even more so, geologies and humans are not so different, both are forces formed within an earth project we currently name the Anthropocene. Kathryn Yusoff writes: if we use the Anthropocene as a provocation to begin to understand ourselves as geologic subjects, not only capable of geomorphic acts, but as beings who have something in common with the geologic forces that are mobilised and incorporated, it is possible to identify some of the collaborative junctures that govern and provoke these affiliations to enact corporeal and planetary (de) sedimentations.43 In Haines and Hinterding’s works, viewers are invited to enact some of these planetary (de)sedimentations, to enter into new relations of scale where both the planet and the sun can be held up close, nearly grasped. Haines and Hinterding describe Geology as a “speculative geography” where “the imaginary is placed on the same footing with information from day to day reality.”44 Their approach not only uses the
Moving Beyond Geology 155 Anthropocene as a provocation but also suggests that bodies are already “earthed,” that we cannot exist on this planet without understanding our role as a geological force. As media theorist Douglas Kahn argues, a focus on energies presents the earth at “magnitude.”45 If the Anthropocene is best defined as “a new stage of geology in which humans are included,” then this is it.46 We are here. We have already become more than a species; we have become a geological energy. And even more: our planetary environments are energetic and our energies are environments. And yet, this relational definition of nature, has been present all the time. In its place, the falsehoods of the Anthropocene—the endless supply of minerals and materials—have been treated as somehow more real than a vital and speculative energetic world in constant transformation.
Planet The sound is too loud. The images too bright. The floor, ceiling, and walls of the room are mapped by a grid of fluorescent blue light that triggers the familiar migraine spot just above my left eye. I blink repeatedly as the nausea creeps up. I take off my glasses and try to focus. The room vibrates with the energy of a late night session spent on a small screen. Within the blue grid are sun lounges variously occupied by the audience. One person is on their phone filming, another is posting status updates. In the far corner of the room (it is hard to judge distance in this blue grid nonspace), somewhere, over there, is a large screen excessively scaffolded by a theatrical grid of steel and aluminium. It is a future cinema transported onto a spaceship hovering just under the surface of the earth. It is hard to breathe in here, everything is just slightly off, stifling. The work is Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun (2015, Figure 5.8), a work in which the common art world description “immersive installation” takes on an expansive physical resonance. On the screen, inside the screen, inside the matrix of the room, a training session is taking place. Self-styled “orphans of the revolution” are learning to dance, to make energy. This is energy that can be captured and stored; the energy that might power a planet. It is hard to tell if they are fighting for the revolution, or against it. In this world, Deutsche Bank, controller of both global economics and the physics of the universe, has accelerated the production of sunlight. Factory of the Sun points to a new world order where workers slave in a motion capture studio competing for jobs in a factory that produces the sunlight of a million connected electronic devices. Held in green screen cages, protestors are forced to dance on and on and on. Each move generates energy that furthers the production of both capital and sunlight. Onscreen, the loops of narrative are not easy to follow, and certainly are not designed to be narrated as I am doing here. There are details, too difficult to describe, in which the work slips between timeframes, of the present, of the future and of a global Capitalocene. This world is shown to be powered by gratuitous malevolent forces. Humans are neither geological force nor energy. They are shot at by drones, and dance in underground labour camps, earning factory points for each completed move. I recognise the YouTube dancing sensation “takeSomeCrime.” Other dancers are trained to copy his moves, re-performing the screen within the body within the screen, and the loops become revolutions. We listen carefully as one dancer named Yulia tells the story of her family’s forced displacement from Russia.
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Figure 5.8 Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun (2015). Installation view, Venice Biennale, single- channel HD video, environment. Photograph by Manuel Reinartz. Reproduced courtesy of the artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York, and Esther Schipper, Berlin.
She is interrupted by news broadcasts. We are promised stories of other individuals, but time is ticking down. Factory of the Sun is simultaneously a geologic imaginary and an aesthetic nightmare. Steyerl reminds viewers that the problem of the Anthropocene is the problem of scale. On screen, yet outside the studio, the world is revealed to be somewhere on the outskirts of Berlin. Here the dancers are on the roof of the Teufelsberg listening post, one of the sites used by the US National Security Administration from the 1950s until 1989 and the end of the Cold War. The task of the giant domes was to listen for signals from a protected section of the radio spectrum. Freedom results in control. The dancing continues, the voiceovers continue, the news broadcasts continue. And the screen now full of digital avatars performing dance moves over and over again, shrinks into the room. The work occupies the expanded present of the Internet. But what is the scale of the Internet, and how does it intersect with the scale of the Anthropocene? In Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun, the generation, absorption, and reflection of digital light forms the conditions of existence for life within the Anthropocene.47 By merging the network with the planet, Steyerl plays in the same rich semiotic sandbox as Robert Smithson and Donna Haraway and others discussed throughout this book. Her allegorical mode draws on Smithson’s geological being and Haraway’s description of the cyborg as a machine formed in the spaces between humans and the technoindustrial complexes of the military and capital. In her “cyborg manifesto”
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Moving Beyond Geology 157 Haraway writes: “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum.”48 In Factory of the Sun, the vivid metaphors of the mythic time of the cyborg are rendered within a motion capture studio where humans generate signals across new systems of domination: motion and capture. Steyerl extends the practice of becoming geological into a landscape overwritten with the motion and capture of surveillance technologies. In her practice, humans and the technologies invented to witness the planet’s transformation have been opened up to material and immaterial forces. By embracing the partial, situated knowledges of humans in interaction with the world and each other, Steyerl illuminates the simplicity of existing metaphors for the Anthropocene. If the Anthropocene is indeed the description of our age, she seems to suggest, we need to remember that the Anthropocene has not only conflated the worlds of the bios and geos but also the realm of technology. By directly referencing Haraway’s cyborg manifesto, Steyerl reminds us that the boundaries of science fiction, string figures, situated feminism, and social reality are readily interchangeable. Haraway identified that the notion of a total vision of the world was impossible. There was no order of things! Instead she argued, there are multiple knowledge claims, many ways of seeing and being in the world. Yet, in many ways the metaphor of the cyborg was too strong; its ironic, feminist, and perverse roots were forgotten as it became entangled in other dominant metaphors of the cyborg as a fantasy war machine. Haraway’s cyborg was a warning, not a recipe. “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short we are cyborgs.”49 By the late twentieth century, it was too late. By dismantling the dualism of life and nonlife Haraway broke down the taxonomic categories of the planet that have woven their way through this book. Steyerl continues the work. Steyerl’s avatars perform within an image made of light and dominated by the tensions of leisure and violence at the core of every video game. The avatars protest their capture, but right now they cannot stop dancing least the planet fade into darkness. In 2015, the Deutsches Museum in Munich collaborated with the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society to develop a major exhibition that traced the Anthropocene as evidenced in the interrelationship between nature and technology (Figure 5.9).50 There was an urgency to the title, and to the way the exhibition was received. Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands was a contemporary cabinet of curiosities, presented as a catalogue of human activity that could be read, not through emissions, but through a timeline of impacts. Artefacts from the industrial revolution through to the present day were encased in six small zones of interaction—urbanisation, mobility, humans and machines, nature, food, and evolution. In their groupings, objects, things, and relationships were bought into the present. Everything was contextualised within a narrative of technology. The approach smoothed a route where “we” as humans, as the exhibition audience, accompanied by proclamations and rhetorical questions, could walk a collective path through time. Large panels explained that in the past “we” have attempted to understand our planet and “our place in it.” We were warned: “What we do today affects life for a long time to come,” and breathlessly asked: “Are we part of nature or is nature there to obey our will?” The aim was to challenge the audience to think about human relationships with
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Figure 5.9 Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl and Helmuth Trischler, Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands, (2014–2016). Deutsches Museum and The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich. Installation view. All rights reserved. Reproduced courtesy of the Deutsches Museum, Munich.
nature, through the evolutionary histories of technology (the kinds of stories usually told in a science museum). For curator Nina Möllers, the Anthropocene represents a “complex history of destruction and shaping.”51 The exhibition documented this history. In the catalogue, head of the IPCC, Jan Zalasiewicz described how, despite scientific abilities to read the Anthropocene in the sedimentary layers of the planet, “The scale of the time involved, Earth time, remains as difficult to comprehend as ever … Earth time and human time … seem to occupy entirely different realms.”52 As the Welcome to the Anthropocene exhibition demonstrated, there are many markers of human relationships with the planet. It is not that any particular moment defines the Anthropocene, it is the uneven collectivity of the human that does it: the messy force of a species that has constructed a new environment that is only temporarily suitable for habitation. The Anthropocene has been characterised by the removal, processing, and relocation of vast quantities of earth materials. Amidst all this movement, scientists search for a record that will stay beyond the human, that will be visible in sediment and rock millions of years into the future. This is the shock; not that the Anthropocene is about turning towards the human, or that the human species has a collective ego that will take over and stamp its mark in the strata, but that humanity will be the first species to slip into geology not as a record but as a force. We have been mineralised by the very machines we use to move the earth. Who are “we” anyway? Previous definitions
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Moving Beyond Geology 159 of nature assumed an incompatibility between nature and humans. Future definitions demand a different entanglement of matter in which human and nonhuman, nature and aesthetics are considered through their relations: the Anthropocene as a “political and cultural metaphor describing speculative futures that may emerge through irrevocable changes of state.”53 In response, this book has traced the presence of the Anthropocene through contemporary art. I have identified a planetary aesthetics hidden within the scales of the Anthropocene. By narrating my encounters with art works, I have questioned the taxonomies of nature that have dominated art history since the enlightenment. Artworks do not speak directly; they shift the way we imagine in space and time. Without their work, we cannot imagine the future. The artworks discussed in this book operate slowly through relationships, rather than via symbols that demand a direct and immediate presence. Amidst the constant background hum of the planet within the cosmos, they have propelled us towards new taxonomical definitions of nature. In the Holocene, the order of things shaped perceptions of the world. The order of things colonised and influenced all ways of imagining the earth we live on. These ideas forcibly migrated across the world bringing with them a focus on golden spikes, and precise starting dates. Next came the all-powerful networked worlds of capital and war upon which the Anthropocene was built: the mass movements of sediment, oil, and fossil fuels, nature as a resource to be mined, accompanied by an endless supply of humans who can work in alliance with machines as labourers to extract the resource. The resultant corporate and ecological disasters point toward the interconnectedness of the human and the environment. They mark key moments where the intangible is made tangible, and where a geological force changes human and nonhuman lives forever. Planetary aesthetics suggests a new approach the Anthropocene. It traces the metaphors that circulate as visual images within the Anthropocene. To engage directly with the Anthropocene means turning our attention to the gendered and colonial knowledge-making practices it is built upon. In the Anthropocene, nature slips around, it is haunted by histories that have labelled it nonhuman, and extinct ghosts that populate its corners. All forms of language, metaphor, and allegory included, can be unevenly deployed. The language we use determines the way that we imagine the world. There is something in Lisa Reihana’s in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015) that I missed on the first viewing. It is all the birds. Perhaps it is because their voices have a softness that I associate with Aotearoa New Zealand, or perhaps it is because all the human activity points to something more, or perhaps it is because birds tend to drift away on the movements of the wind and sea. The birds add more than atmosphere to Reihana’s work, they bring with them stories of other journeys to the other islands and continents that are connected across Moana Oceania. With the presence of the birds, Reihana pulls together time; her work speaks back to eighteenth-century colonising journeys across the Pacific but also forwards to the future, when our horizon lines are not yet visible. This kind of planetary thought accounts for continual change. In front of the ever-moving sea of vignettes that make up her project I witness everyday sequences of life and death, encounter and motion as they play out across Moana Oceania. For most of the work, we never see the birds, but they are there; feasting on the exotic fruits of the plants and trees that are woven across the screen, marking multispecies time. And then, just before his death, Captain Cook’s musket rings out
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160 Moving Beyond Geology and birds scatter across the sky. At each new viewing, I notice other moments of meeting—where humans, politics, science, nature, objects, energies, art, technology, and society connect and form a geoaesthetics that exceeds that of a subject relationship between the human and nature. These meeting points are one location for planetary aesthetics. But there are many more. Another could be the anthropological work of Anna Tsing as she traces dynamic relationships between humans, mushrooms, forests, and modes of exchange, or Karen Barad’s evidential studies of agency as it forms between materials and objects.54 Their language is still evolving, as is mine. Together, these concepts build a foundation for the earth as it is described within planetary aesthetics. As Reihana shows, European enlightenment concepts of the order of things have become entangled within an order of relations that challenges singular narratives of colonisation, capitalism, and dispossession. Outside of the taxonomies of animal, mineral, and vegetable, energies and ecologies point to small moments of multiplication that occur when things entangle: a lively mountainscape, a breathing stone, a hive of bees that keeps a sculpture alive, a plant that has witnessed the exchanges of capital. Thom van Dooren argues that working in the Anthropocene means cultivating this level of attentiveness.55 My task has been to pay attention to these worlds within the art gallery, to trace where the planetary moves into the reciprocal sites of objects and spaces. Spivak’s employment of the term planetary was never meant to be taken here, but it too is an allegory: an order of relations through which the art object reveals its multispecies and geological frame. We walk into an art gallery and expect certain things. In the art gallery something is seen, identified, viewed, or presented as a series of relationships that might be established between individuals, groups, environments, imaginations, and sensations. Understood this way, art is an aesthetic relationship between differing material bodies, images, representations, and spaces. Because it is experienced as an event rather than via a search for meaning, contemporary art operates through attentiveness and allegory. A planetary aesthetics pays attention to the continual allegorical transformations of art, not just how it feels but what it does. Art in the Anthropocene involves entering this world of affects and sensations, bringing together contemporary artistic practices with histories that enable us to experience the present in a way that is attuned to many potential futures. What is at stake in the Anthropocene is not so much representational change as a change in our relations to aesthetic representation. The artworks discussed in this book map the boundaries of an ecology of partial connections, an order of relations in which we can survive. They tell us about the planet in the Anthropocene. In another place, at another time on a small island on the other side of the planet, a woman bends down and picks up a small glowing rock. She places it in her pocket for later; for a time when it might reveal something of its secrets. But for now, she steps carefully between the relics of industry, making sure not to get oil on her boots.
Notes 1 “Aleksandra Mir: First Woman on the Moon,” 1215. Today University of Lincoln and Arts Council England, 24 May, 2016. http://1215today.com/art/aleksandra-mir-first-womanmoon/ 2 All beach trash was collected and exhibited in a tent named the “Museum of Lunar Surface Findings.”
Moving Beyond Geology 161 3 Craig Owens, “Earthwords,” October 10 (Autumn 1979), 120–130. Craig Owens, “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism,” October 12 (Spring 1980), 67–86. 4 Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,”  in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 107. 5 Amanda Boetzkes, The Ethics of Earth Art (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 6. 6 Spivak, Death of a Discipline, 102. 7 Guattari, The Three Ecologies, 68. 8 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 34. 9 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 393. 10 Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin, “Matter Feels, Converses, Suffers, Desires, Yearns and Remembers: An Interview with Karen Barad,” in New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012), 70. 11 Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 393. 12 Bennett, Vibrant Matter, 114. 13 Steffen, Rockström, Richardson et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System,” 8252–8259. 14 Steffen, Rockström, Richardson et al., “Trajectories of the Earth System,” 8254. 15 In interview with DJ Pangburn, “An Immersive Installation Turns Earth’s Sounds into Psychedelics,” Vice, 21 June, 2016. www.vice.com/en_us/article/jpv9gy/earths-sounds- psychedelic-visuals-installation-semiconductor) 16 Åsberg, “Feminist Posthumanities in the Anthropocene,” 187. 17 Bridie Lonie, “Knowing Climate Change through Art,” in Art and Future: Energy, Climate, Cultures, ed. Peter Stupples (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2018), 169. 18 Yusoff, “Geologic life,” 781. 19 Elizabeth Grosz in Kathryn Yusoff, Elizabeth Grosz, Nigel Clark, et al., “Geopower: A Panel on Elizabeth Grosz’s Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 30, no. 6: (2012), 974. 20 Clark, and Yusoff, “Geosocial Formations and the Anthropocene,” 3. 21 Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill, “The Anthropocene.” 22 Andrew Murphie, “Hacking the Aesthetic: David Haines and Joyce Hinterding’s New Ecologies of Signal,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 4, no. 1 (2012). DOI: 10.3402/jac. v4i0.18153 23 In conversation with the author, also cited in Susan Ballard “Erewhon: Media, Ecology and Utopia in the Antipodes.” 24 Quoted in Fran Dyson and Douglas Kahn, “Levitation Grounds: Essay/Liminal Product,” Haineshinterding.net [Blog], 3 July, 2000. www.haineshinterding.net/2000/03/07/ levitation-grounds-essay-liminal-product/ 25 Murphie, “Hacking the aesthetic,” 10. 26 Murphie, “Hacking the aesthetic,” 11. 27 Prix Ars Electronica Exhibition, “Cyberarts 09” OK Centrum 3 September, 2009. www. ok-centrum.at/en/press/pressemitteilung/cyberarts-09 28 Bruce Clarke, “Introduction,” From Energy to Information: Representation in Science and Technology, Art, and Literature, ed. Bruce Clarke and Linda Dalrymple Henderson (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 9. 29 Janine Randerson and Rachel Shearer, “Dark Sun: Solar Frequencies, Solar Affects,” in Animism in Art and Performance, ed. Christopher Braddock (New York and London: Springer, 2017), 83. 30 Joyce Hinterding in Anna Davis and Douglas Kahn, Energies: Haines & Hinterding (Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2015), 115. 31 Hinterding in Davis and Kahn, Energies, 115. 32 Gregory Bateson, “Pathologies of Epistemology,” in Steps to An Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistomology (San Francisco: Chandler, 1972), 483.
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162 Moving Beyond Geology 3 Bateson, “Pathologies of Epistemology,” 483. 3 34 Bateson, “Pathologies of Epistemology,” 484. 35 Glen Coates, The Rise and Fall of the Southern Alps (Christchurch, Canterbury University Press, 2002). 36 See also Susan Ballard, Tracey Benson, Robert Carter, et al., A Transitional Imaginary: Space, Network, and Memory in Christchurch (Christchurch: Harvest Press, 2015). 37 Zita Joyce, “Standing Upright Here: Christchurch’s Seismic and Sonic Energies,” paper presented at Energies and the Arts, National Institute of Experimental Arts, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, August 2015. 38 Joyce, “Standing Upright Here.” 39 Susan Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster,” in Against Interpretation, and Other Essays (New York: Picador, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966), 209–225. 40 Sontag, “The Imagination of Disaster,” 225. 41 Quoted in online exhibition catalogues www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/710- energies-haines-hinterding/ and https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/haines- hinterding-energies 42 Microsoft, Kinect advertising campaign, 2010. See news.microsoft.com/2010/10/21/kinect- ads-you-are-the-controller; accessed 5 February 2018. 43 Yusoff, “Geologic life,” 781. 44 Quoted in online exhibition catalogues www.mca.com.au/artists-works/exhibitions/710- energies-haines-hinterding/ and https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/haines- hinterding-energies 45 Kahn, Earth Sound Earth Signal. 46 Wark, “From OOO to P(OO).” 47 Hito Steyerl, “In Defense of the Poor Image,” Eflux Journal 10 (November 2009) www.e- flux.com/journal/10/61362/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/ 48 Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” 178. 49 Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto,” 178. 50 Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl and Helmuth Trischler, Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands (Munich: Deutsches Museum and the Rachel Carson Center, 2014). 51 Nina Möllers, “Cur(at)ing the Planet—How to Exhibit the Anthropocene and Why,” RCC Perspectives: Anthropocene: Exploring the Future of the Age of Humans, 3 (2013): 57–66. Nina Möllers, “Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands,” Environment & Society Portal, Virtual Exhibitions, no. 2, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany, 2014–2016. www.environmentandsociety. org/exhibitions/welcome-anthropocene 52 Jan Zalasiewicz, “The Human Dimension in Geological Time” in Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands, ed. Nina Möllers, Christian Schwägerl and Helmuth Trischler (Munich: Deutsches Museum and the Rachel Carson Center, 2014), 13 -14. 53 Jennifer Gabrys and Kathryn Yusoff, “Arts, Sciences and Climate Change: Practices and Politics at the Threshold,” Science as Culture 21, no. 1 (2012): 6. https://doi.org/10.1080/ 09505431.2010.550139 54 Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway. 55 Van Dooren, Kirksey, Münster, “Multispecies Studies: Cultivating Arts of Attentiveness.”
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Note: page numbers in italics refer to illustrations A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (Yusoff) 4, 32 Aboriginal (Australian): cultural practice 15, 45, 47, 49; displacement 32–33, 45; see also Maralinga test site aesthetics see planetary aesthetics After Fukushima (Nancy) 125 Aftermath (Norrie) 112, 112–13 agency 84, 88, 89, 93–94, 133, 142, 146, 160; biological 6, 8, 72; geological 6, 8, 31, 97; nature 13, 35 A History of the Birds of New Zealand (Buller) 76 A Journey That Wasn’t (Association of Freed Time) 55 allegory 17, 27, 36–37, 101, 108, 115, 134 alterity 10, 20, 22; Guattari 9; Spivak 8, 88–89, 141 Alÿs, Francis 140 An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (Simon) 83–84 An Apparition of a Subtraction (Dwyer) 96–99, 97, 98, 102 Angelus Novus (Klee) 108, 133 An Iron Forge (Wright of Derby) 23 animals 16, 55–56, 102 Antarctica 37, 54, 55, 56, 142 Anthropocene: definitions 4–6, 56, 94, 116, 155; legacy 132; as metaphor 124, 157; time transgressive 38, 56; uneven distribution 65–66, 158 Anthropocene (Fowler) 79–80, 80 Anthropocene Working Group 4, 30, 116 Anthropos 4–5, 93, 145 Aotearoa New Zealand 15, 19–20, 44, 110, 119, 142, 159; effects of colonisation 18, 74–76; see also birds; Christchurch earthquake; Māori Aquarium Project, The (Huyghe) 56–57 Art Forms of Nature (Haeckel) 72 Åsberg, Cecilia 145
“A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects” (Smithson) 29 Association of Freed Time 54–55 atomic testing 4, 29, 31, 32, 33, 36, 128 A Walk in Fukushima (Don’t Follow the Wind) 126–27, 127 A Way in Untilled (Huyghe) 58 Banks, Joseph 46 Barad, Karen 93, 108, 142, 144 Bateson, Gregory 56, 69n61, 76, 151 Beaumont, Betty 141 Benjamin, Walter 27, 108, 115, 132, 135 Bennett, Jane 88 Bernini, Gian Lorenzo 15–16, 17 biopolitics 10, 20, 146 bios 17, 22, 113, 124, 157 Birch, Tony 45 birds 73–78, 81–82, 132, 159–60; see also huia black boxes 142, 143 Blue Marble (photograph) 43, 62 Borges, Jorge Luis 16 Bosschaert the Elder, Ambrosius 83 Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de 45 Boulton, Matthew 23 Brâncuși, Constantin 57, 58 Brathwaite, Kamau 50–51, 52 Brennan, Stella 81–82 Bretton Woods Agreement 82, 83, 84 Brown, Deidre 49 Buller, Walter Lawry 75, 76, 104n26 Buller’s Table Cloth (Hammond) 76, 76–77 Call of the Wild (Fowler) 77, 78 Campbell, Joyce 20–22, 40n42 capitalism 27–29, 38, 44–45, 52, 84–87, 159–60 Capitalocene 100, 155 Carson, Rachel 36, 51, 124, 132–33 Castor (Campbell) 22 Castree, Noel 37
Index 177 Chakrabarty, Dipesh 5–6, 72 Charvet, Jean-Gabriel 46–47 Chichester Canal (Turner) 23 Chim↑Pom (collective) 126, 133 Christchurch earthquake 151–53 Chthulucene (Haraway) 53 chukjibeop 123 Circum-Pacific Belt 109 Clark, Nigel 22, 100, 146 climate change 2, 5–6, 8–9, 23, 37, 44–45, 51, 72, 116, 144; art exhibitions 3; loss of biodiversity 10, 72 coal 7, 23–24, 82, 100, 101; mining 125; waste 141 colonisation 18, 38, 44–45, 49–50; environmental effects 74–75, 108 Colour (Kauffman) 26, 26–27 Conference of the Parties (COP) see COP3; COP21; COP23; COP24 Contraband (Simon) 83–84 Conway, Anne 17, 18 Cook, James 45–46, 47, 49, 50, 52, 159; see also colonisation COP3 23 COP21 3, 6, 50 COP23 44, 67n8 COP24 7 Crown Coach Botanical series (Campbell) 21–22 Crutzen, Paul 4, 23, 28 Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations (Yonetanis) 129, 129–31, 130, 132 Cuvier, Georges 17 cyborg 156–57 Daphne (Bernini) 15–16, 17 Darwin, Charles 69n61, 72, 73, 75 Dead Tree (Smithson) 92 Death of a Discipline (Spivak) 141 Deleuze, Gilles 8, 28 De Maria, Walter 30 Demos, T. J. 121, 133 Denes, Agnes 141 Descartes, René 14, 17, 18, 39n34 dingo 107–9, 131 Don’t Follow the Wind (collective) 126–28, 133 Don’t Follow the Wind (project) 126–28, 133 Don’t Follow the Wind Non-Visitor Centre (Don’t Follow the Wind) 126 Double Negative (Heizer) 30 Do You Think Science... (Semiconductor) 142–43 Duel with Cudgels (Goya) 13–14, 14, 65 Dufour, Joseph 46–47, 49, 50 Dwyer, Mikala 94–99, 100–102
Earth–Moon–Earth (Moonlight Sonata Reflected from the Surface of the Moon) (Paterson) 60–62, 61 earthquakes see Christchurch earthquake; Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami Earthrise (Anders) 43 Earth Star (Haines & Hinterding) 149, 149–51, 150 Earth System science 144–45 Earthworks (Semiconductor) 144, 144–45 ecological art 141; see also land art; planetary aesthetics ecology 8, 56, 142, 151 “El Diario del Fin del Mundo: A Journey that Wasn’t” (Association of Freed Time) 54 El Fin Del Mundo (The End of the World) (Moon & Jeon) 120–21, 121, 123 Eliasson, Olafur 6–7 Endeavour (ship) 18, 39n29, 46 energies: cosmic 142, 147, 148; electromagnetic 147–50, 152–53, 157; seismic 111, 144–45, 147, 151–53 et al. (collective) 116–19, 135n32 ethics: aesthetic 77, 88, 99, 101, 102, 153; critical 143; planetary 107, 116, 142 Every Living Kākāpo (Brennan) 81 extinction 72, 75–76, 79–82, 107 Factory of the Sun (Steyerl) 155–57, 156 Fall of Icarus, The (after Bruegel) (Hammond) 73–74, 74 fallout see under nuclear Final Photos (Simon) 129 First Woman on the Moon (Mir) 139–40 Flight of Birds, The (Lobb) 73 Flowers in a Glass Vase (Bosschaert the Elder) 83 Flowers in a Glass Vase with Tulip (Ruysch) 83 fossil fuels 3, 18, 25, 44, 65, 100, 118, 147, 159 fossil record 17, 94 Foucault, Michel 16–17, 69n61 Fowler, Hayden 77–80 Frankenstein (Shelley) 23 French nuclear testing 116–19 Friedrich, Caspar David 55, 59 Fukushima disaster 114, 125–26, 128, 131, 133 fundamental practice, the (et al.) 117–18, 118 Future Library (Paterson) 62, 62–63 Gabrys, Jennifer 116 Gaia theory 94; see also Earth System science Galileo Galilei 61–62
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178 Index Garden of Half-life, The (Dwyer) 94–96, 95, 100 Genosko, Gary 96 geology: definitions 4, 6, 106n95; humans as geological force 1, 6, 32, 66, 73, 92, 115–16, 124, 146; origins 17 Geology (Haines & Hinterding) 151, 152, 153–54, 154 geophilosophy 8–9, 65 geos 17, 22, 94, 96, 100, 113 Gerhardt, Joe see Semiconductor Ghosh, Amitav 5 Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point 4; see also golden spike globalisation 43, 65, 82 golden spike 4–5, 29, 31, 32, 94, 123, 159 Goya, Francisco 13–14, 37, 65 Gravesend (McQueen) 99 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami see Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami Great Salt Lake (Utah) 31, 140 Grosz, Elizabeth 89, 146 GSSP see Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point Guattari, Félix 8–9, 28 Haeckel, Ernst 72, 73 Haines, David 147–51, 153–54 Hammond, Bill 73–74, 76–77 Haraway, Donna 4, 53, 63, 71, 88, 93, 156–57; geostorying 60, 65, 66; staying with 60, 63, 87 Harry, Newell 51–52, 52, 60 Hau‘ofa, Epeli 44, 51–52 HAVOC (Norrie) 111, 111–13 Heise, Ursula 114–15 Heizer, Michael 30 Henbury meteorite 96, 100 Hinekōrako (taniwha) 21, 40n42 Hinterding, Joyce 147–51, 153–54 Holding On (Tiatia) 1, 2 Hollows, The (Dwyer) 100–102, 101 Holocene 6, 13–15, 23, 28–29, 123, 145, 159 Holt, Nancy 33, 35–36 “How to Grow Liveable Worlds” (Myers) 88 huia 75–77 Human (dog) 57–58 Huyghe, Pierre 53–59, 60 Ice Watch (Eliasson) 6–7 Industrial Revolution 4, 14, 23–26, 28 in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (Reihana) 47–50, 48, 159–60 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 37, 38, 158 International Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy 4, 116
Jarman, Ruth see Semiconductor Jeon Joonho 120–24 Joyce, Zita 152 Kahn, Douglas 135n27, 155 Kahn, Miriam 117–18 Kant, Immanuel 59 Kauffman, Angelica 26–27 Klee, Paul 108, 132, 133 land art 29, 30, 37, 141; see also Smithson, Robert landscape painting 23–26, 46–47, 55 Latour, Bruno 16–17, 97 Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique (Charvet & Dufour) 46, 46–50 Leyster, Judith 83, 84 Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)—the Morning after the Deluge—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (Turner) 27 Lightning Field, The (De Maria) 30 Linnaeus, Carolus 72–73, 94 Lippard, Lucy 37, 141 Lobb, Joshua 73 Lonie, Bridie 145–46 Lusi mud volcano 111–12 Magnetic Movie (Semiconductor) 142–43, 143 Māori: history 18, 47, 49; mythology 20–21; rahui (ban) 75; taniwha 20; taonga pūoro (instruments) 47; see also colonisation; Te Awa Tupua Act; Treaty of Waitangi; “Treelords” settlement Maralinga test site 32–33; see also atomic testing Marx, Karl 28 Maush, Christof 109 McQueen, Steve 99, 100, 102 Mentz, Steve 99 Merchant, Carolyn 15 Middle Landscape, The (Brennan) 81, 81 Milford Sound, New Zealand (Von Guérard) 19 mining 99–100, 111, 113, 125 Mir, Aleksandra 139–40 Mitchell, Dane 89–93 moana 49 Moana Oceania 2, 45, 47–50, 52, 117–18, 141, 159; definition 44; rising sea level 66 moon 60–62, 139–40 Moon Kyungwon 120–24 multispecies relationships 6, 9, 20–21, 53, 57–58, 79–80 Mururoa atoll 116–17 Mushroom at the End of the World, The (Tsing) 89 Myers, Natasha 88
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Index 179 Nancy, Jean-Luc 125–26 Natural Contract, The (Serres) 13–14, 102 naturecultures (Haraway) 20, 21, 53, 56, 57 Neimanis, Astrida 133 News From Nowhere: A Platform for the Future and Introspection of the Present (Moon & Jeon) 120–21, 136n48 New World Order (Fowler) 77–78, 79 New Zealand see Aotearoa New Zealand Niania, Richard 20, 40n42 “No Ordinary Sun” (Tuwhare) 36 Norrie, Susan 109–15, 134 nuclear: energy 129, 131; fallout 31, 33, 36, 125, 128, 132; weapons testing 31–33, 116–19, 128–30, 136n34; see also Fukushima disaster Oceania 38, 44; see also Moana Oceania oceanic thought 51 Ocean Landmark (Beaumont) 141 Oppenheimer, Robert 36 Order of Things, The (Foucault) 16–17, 69n61 Pacific Islands see Moana Oceania; Mururoa atoll; Oceania; Tahiti; Tonga; Tuvalu Pacific ring of fire see Circum-Pacific Belt Paglen, Trevor 127–29 Paperwork and the Will of Capital (Simon) 84–87, 85, 87 Parikka, Jussi 99 Parkinson, Sydney 46, 47 parliament of things 97, 100 Pascoe, Bruce 33 Paterson, Katie 60–63 planetarity see under Spivak planetary aesthetics 1, 28, 36, 59–60, 91, 133–34, 146, 159–60; Barad 43–44, 59, 88–89, 141; definition 7–10, 65–66; Spivak 8, 59, 88–89, 141 planet thinking 3, 8, 43–44, 59, 82, 88–89, 102 plants 23, 36, 57, 82–93 Plumwood, Val 72–73, 109 Politics of Nature (Latour) 16 pollution 36, 60, 66, 113 Post hoc (Mitchell) 89–93, 90, 91 Povinelli, Elizabeth 94, 96, 100 Purple Rain (Haines & Hinterding) 147–48, 148 quantum entanglement 93, 108, 143 Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society 109, 157 radiation 32–33, 125–26, 128–32
railways 23–25 Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway (Turner) 24, 24–25 Rainbow Warrior bombing 119 Randerson, Janine 149–50 Rapture (et al.) 116, 117, 118 Rawhiti Cave (New Zealand) 15 Reihana, Lisa 47–50, 51–52, 60, 159–60 resource extraction 28–29, 94, 100 Rickards, Lauren 124 Rose, Deborah Bird 77, 107–8 Royal FloraHolland 83, 84, 104n42 Ruskin, John 27 Ruysch, Rachel 83 Salmond, Anne 18, 49 Scarce, Yhonnie 32–33, 34–35, 37 Schopenhauer, Arthur 59 sea level rise 50, 66, 74 Sea of Ice, The (The Wreck of Hope) (Friedrich) 55 sea of islands (Hau‘ofa) 44–45, 49–52 Semiconductor 142–43, 144–45 Semper Augustus (Leyster) 83, 84 Semper Augustus (tulip) 83–84, 86 Serres, Michel 13–14, 65, 102 Shearer, Rachel 149–50 Shelley, Mary 23 Silent Spring (Carson) 36, 51, 124, 132 Simon, Taryn 83–88, 93, 129, 132 slavery 27–28, 38 Slave Ship, The (Turner) 27 Sleeping Muse (Brancusi) 57 Smith, Bernard 19 Smithson, Robert 29–32, 92, 141, 156; Spiral Jetty 31, 35, 36, 37, 140 Sometimes I Think She Shows Herself (Campbell) 20 Sontag, Susan 152 species 4, 17, 71–72; see also extinction Spiral Jetty (Smithson) see under Smithson, Robert Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 8, 108, 142, 144, 160; planetarity 3, 59, 88–89 Staying with the Trouble (Haraway) 60 steam power 4, 23–25, 28, 111, 125 Stengers, Isabelle 15 Steno, Nicolas 17 Steyerl, Hito 155–57 Stoermer, Eugene 4, 23 stratigraphy 4, 38, 94; see also golden spike Study for an End of the World No. 2, Nevada (Tinguely) 30 sublime 59–60, 151, 153 Sun Tunnels (Holt) 33, 35–36 Svalbard Global Seed Vault 88 Szersynski, Bronislaw 99
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180 Index Tahiti 45, 47, 52; nuclear testing 117, 136n37 taniwha 20–21, 40n42 Tasman, Abel 18; see also colonisation taxonomy 72–73, 89, 94, 101–2 TBA21-Academy 50–51 Te Awa Tupua Act 20 technology 25, 30, 115, 123, 133, 156–58; dependence 15, 60; disaster 125–26, 129 Terra Australis Incognita 44 Te Taniwha series (Campbell) 20–21 Thackeray, William Makepeace 24 “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (Benjamin) 108 Three Ecologies, The (Guattari) 8–9 Thunder Raining Poison (Scarce) 33, 34, 35, 37 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary see TBA21-Academy Tiatia, Angela 1–2 tidalectics 50–51 Tidalectics project (TBA21-Academy) 51–52, 52 Tinguely, Jean 30 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami 113–14, 125–26 Tonga 47 “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” (Steffen et al.) 143 Transit (Norrie) 113–14, 114, 134 transit of Venus 45, 50 Treaty of Waitangi 86; see also Māori; Te Awa Tupua Act; “Treelords” settlement “Treelords” settlement 86 Trinitite 127–28 Trinity Cube (Paglen) 127–29, 128, 131 Trinity Site 29, 30, 36, 128 Tsing, Anna 6, 29, 33, 38, 89, 160 tsunami see Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami tulips 83, 84 Turner, Joseph Mallord William 23, 24–25, 27–28 Tūwhare, Hone 36 Tuvalu 1 Uexküll, Jakob von 56 Umwelt (Huyghe) 56
umwelt (unit of survival) 56–57, 66, 71 Undermining (Lippard) 37 Undertow (Norrie) 109–10, 110 Untilled (Huyghe) 57–58 Untitled (Anagrams and Objects for R.U. & R.U. (Part 1) (Harry) 51–52, 52 uranium 127, 130; glass 129–30 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Contraband Room John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, New York (Simon) 84 Van Dooren, Thom 74, 82, 108, 115, 160 volcanic activity 23, 109–14, 145, 147 Von Guérard, Eugene 18–19 Waite, Jason 126, 127, 129 Wark, McKenzie 132 Waters, Colin 116 Watt, James 4, 23 Ways of Folding Space & Flying, The (Moon & Jeon) 121–24, 122 Weather Bracelet (Whitelaw) 63–64, 64 Welcome to the Anthropocene (exhibition) 3, 157–58, 158 Welland, Michael 100, 106n95 Western Deep (McQueen) 99 Whanganui River (New Zealand) 20 Wheatfield—A Confrontation (Denes) 141 When Faith Moves Mountains (Alÿs) 140 When Species Meet (Haraway) 71, 88 Whitelaw, Mitchell 63–65 Wild Dog Dreaming (Rose) 107 Williams, Alena J. 35–36 World War II 30, 82, 115 Wright, Kate 109 Wright of Derby, Joseph 23 Yonetani, Ken + Julia 129–31, 132, 133 Yusoff, Kathryn 4–5, 17, 22, 31, 32, 113, 116, 146, 154 Zalasiewicz, Jan 4, 29, 30, 94, 158 Zong (ship) 27 Zoodram 4 (Huyghe) 57