In response to the term the Anthropocene this essay will explore how social and environmental factors are relying not only on scientific research but also art as a tool to enagege humanity in sustainable growth. The essay will elaborate and exemplify through various projects and discuss if art a more sustainable way of living.
The term ‘Anthropocene’ according to Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptise Fressoz is a sign of ‘our power’ and resembles an ‘earth whose atmosphere has been damaged by the 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide we have spilled by burning coal and other fossil fuels… It is a warmer world with a higher risk of catastrophes, a reduce ice cover, higher sea-levels and a climate out of control’.An out of control climate which is an environmental crisis and a geological revolution of human origin, Bonneuil and Fressoz refer to the entrepreneurs of the industrial revolution as the shapers of the Anthropocene and cite Eugiene Huzar who in 1857 predicted,‘In one or two hundred years, criss-crossed by railways and steamships, covered with factories and workshops, the world will emit metres of carbonic acid and carbon oxide, and since the forests will have been destroyed, these hundreds of billions of carbonic acid and carbon oxide may indeed disturb the harmony of the world’.
In support of this, Will Steffan, Paul J.Crutzen and John R. McNeil refer to the Holocene as a ‘postglacial geological epoch of the past ten to twelve thousand years… accelerating in the industrial period, humankind’s activities became a growing geological and morphological force, as recognised early by a number of scientists’ and affirm ‘technology must play a strong in reducing the pressure on the Earth’s System.’ In extension to this, The Guardian label ‘geologists as the guardians of the earth’s timeline’ and specify that the Holocene began approximately 11,700 years ago but identifies that there is a new geological era.This term is to mark the current geological time period recognises environmental changes which have altered the earth and its ecosystem. Paul J Crutzen, and atmospheric chemist, introduced the term ‘Anthropocene’ in the year 2000 to describe a new phase of planetary history and establishes humans as the driving force. Humans are overwhelming the great forces of nature. According to Crutzen, Steffan and McNeil the development of the Anthropocene in the next few decades will be a tipping point in evolution and refer to the ‘Great Acceleration’ after the second World War witnessing an increase in the use of fossil fuels. Humans have evolved in to a “global geophysical force’.As the ‘driving force’ is there what evidence identifying these changes?
According to Kayla Anderson ‘the planet doesn’t need us to save it, we need us to save us from ourselves’ and introduces the ‘solutions’ eco-art presents. Anderson expresses ‘The ecological problems we face are not going to be solved by eco-art, representations of fake nature or collections of plastic hybrids from polluted coastlines.’ However, Anderson exemplifies through various projects the potential art and design presents in contributing to the way the Anthropocene is theorised. ‘Dear Climate’ is a project developed by Marina Zukrow, Una Chadhuri, and Oliver Kellhammer which presents a series of posters and podcasts designed to ‘craft new kinds of personal engagement with climate change’ and visually communicates in the form of posters, podcasts, a website and installations. It utilises streets, walls and galleries as well as home screens to present its work.
Described as a training programme for the spirit and the imagination using a tone, aesthetic and vocabulary and instead of prompting crisis or catastrophe, it animates the familiar and ordinary. In contrast to other works which execute desperation and heroism, it initiates a playful and friendly concept.Davis and Turpin suggest there are three ‘movements of mind’ behind the project, ‘Meeting Climate Change, Befriending Climate Change, and Becoming Climate Change’ and explains ‘Dear Climate is after a conceptual nudge rather than a paradigm shift.’ In their book David and Turpin include a project called ‘Images Do Not Show: The Desire to See in the Anthropocene’ by Irmgard Emmelheinz which expresses that the human impact on earth is so forceful that shifting seas, changes in climate are clear, and the disappearance of innumerable species and even places humanity itself at the brink of extinction. Adding ‘the mass media narrative presents climate change as a “fixable” catastrophe, just like any other, comparable perhaps to the 2008 financial crisis or the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.’
Combing art and technology the project delivers subtle imagery to raise awareness of climate change but is this approach effective in communicating with the public? Artists appear to be raising awareness as Anderson argues, critical, speculative and conceptual design is the best way to tackle issues and suggests the Anthropocene is a false signifier that humans are in control of the planet. Proposing that exhibiting radical and speculative work can have a positive outcome and the narratives are important to how humans respond to the Anthropocene. Additionally, ‘To revitalise our senses, to allow knowledge to grow from the inside out and experience how life unfolds, we need art. Art won’t save the world, but art does offer a reliable compass for striking out in the new directions of our collective journey’s’.
Among the ‘effects of agribusiness, globalised fossil-fuel exploitation and radioactive pollution.’ Bob Dickinson questions if contemporary artists with the traditional approach of gallery-based art will have an effect on public opinion and introduces the term ‘climate trauma’ which will immerse future populations and have an impact on mental illness including depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety. It could be questioned if ‘climate trauma’ and the future implications of climate change is effectively changing the way humans behave and what is being done to incorporate sustainable living to reduce human dependency on fossil fuels and other factors impacting the planet.
Gray and Colucci-Gray ‘We need new ways of thinking about our place in the world and the ways in which we relate to natural systems in order to be able to develop a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren’. Suggesting the climate crisis has possibly resulted in irreversible damage to the earths one life-support system. The study reflects on the societal concerns and refers to Llewellyn Smith’s idea that certain global issues such as energy, food and water security, climate change, biodiversity and potential pandemics are more complex than the issues previously highlighted by the attentions of the media and science. Subject to the noted global issue, Sommer and Klockner refer to Hulme’s argument of climate change as not just a physical entity that shapes our present and future weather conditions but it also holds meaning for culture. Making them both interact ’and mutually shape each other’ which can result in contemplation and reflection in people.‘Art can, for example, make people aware of the impact of their own behave-ior and reflect on their role within climate change. This study suggests that art can have an impact on a person’s behaviour in response to climate change and that art effectively can even create empathy for ecological restoration and mobilizing communities to achieve sustainability.
Aristotle philosophised reasoning and emphasised the importance of life on earth. Knowledge of the world starts with looking at it and examining what exists, reason is competent to know but it is required to start with what exists in the world. His teachings expose that each man’s life has a purpose, each human being should use their abilities to their fullest potential, obtaining happiness and enjoyment through the exercise of realised capacities. Human beings have a natural desire and capacity to know and understand the truth, in order to pursue moral excellence. Aristotle suggested that if humans acquired virtues, for example, good habits through practice and proposed that a set of concrete virtues could lead to a person’s natural excellence and happiness. ‘Morally good habits promote stable and predictable behaviour and foster coordination in an imperfect world. Habits, natural dispositions created through the repetition of actions, underpin virtues.’
According to Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin presents an argument of how Impressionism and other artistic genres could be usefully re-read ‘through the lens of our de-sensitization to the world around us.’ Referring to Nicholas Mirzoeff who writes ‘’(t)he aesthetic of the Anthropocene emerged as an unintended supplement to imperial aesthetics – it comes to seem natural, right, then beautiful – and thereby anaesthetized the perception of modern industrial pollution.’’
The following project is taking a modern approach to exposing how humans are affecting different areas of the planet.
The project called ‘The Anthropocene Project’ formed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas De Pencier and Edward Burtynsky is a body of multidisciplinary work combining art, film, augmented reality, virtual reality and scientific research looking at the human influence on the planet. Defining the Anthropocene as ‘The proposed current geological epoch, in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change’. The production includes new and traditional lens-based art, and is exhibited across America and Europe. It exposes photographic prints and high-resolution murals with film extensions, film installations, and augmented reality installations. Reviewed as visually stunning and imagery that speaks volumes without words, it’s potent and frequently terrifying. It captures alarming ways in which the beauty of landscapes or animals has been disturbed and depicts the scale of disruptions created by humans, the quality at times has a science fiction quality.
Eva Amsen emphasises how art has a complementary role to play in climate communication in comparison to science. Amsen suggests that it is a personal and emotional topic to discuss and the facts of science is not always enough to convince people. Art makes it accessible for people to connect more directly with these emotional and personal aspects of climate change, but can also connect to the scientific facts. Amsen refers to the work of Sommer’s and Klockner which highlights that some types of art have the potential to make people feel more empowered about finding possible climate change solutions.
Summarising the findings, art evidently has a role to play in this geological time period in which humans are recognised as the driving force. However, as the audience and driving force of the Anthropocene, humans are positively engaging in climate change and attempting to change the way in which we live. By using science, technology and art there is encouraging projects working towards reducing human reliance on fossil fuels.