Big fan of Evariste Richer’s work “Fulgurite” (2008), seen at the Musée des arts et métiers in Paris this weekend. When lighting—very hot lightening—strikes silica or other common (semi-)conductive minerals or substrates, it creates a fulgurite (<Lat. fulgur = lightening), strangely shaped rock-like objects. But here, the fulgurite is crossed through by a beautifully industrial blue neon tube. The museum notice sees in all this an emblem of Latour’s nature/culture problem…
Storm Jonas, which has brought a foot of snow to Manhattan today, is making it hard to see much at all out of the window- everything is white. A good time to revisit the work of the Danish-Icelandic Olafur Eliasson, especially (1) his Weather Project, back in 2003 at the Tate Modern; and (2) his recent project, Ice Watch, in Paris during COP21: 80 tons of ice shipped from Greenland to the Place du Panthéon, to make global warming visible in the heart of Europe.
With COP-21 over, what we take away from this deal that defines how "we" relate to "our" planet, how we think about the "stuff" we take from the planet, in a word our collective understanding of the planet and that which is "ex-terranean," perspectives continue to jostle for our attention.
In the Times, the economist Paul Krugman is, somewhat, hopeful: "Did the Paris climate accord save civilization? Maybe. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s actually the best climate news we’ve had in a very long time." He is hopeful because of two majors changes: (1) China's role has change--the country is cutting coal consumption; and (2) while the Republican party continues to fall "ever deeper into a black hole of denial and anti-science conspiracy theorizing," we now realize that this might not matter as much, for Obama is taking executive action in certain areas. Krugman's hope derives most of its energy, however, from "new technology [which] has fundamentally changed the rules": "costs of solar and wind power have fallen dramatically, to the point where they are close to competitive with fossil fuels even without special incentives." Krugman's final words are hopeful: "I don’t think it’s naïve to suggest that what came out of Paris gives us real reason to hope in an area where hope has been all too scarce. Maybe we’re not doomed after all."
But can we really be that hopeful? Or at least that tritely hopeful... Camille Seaman's piece sobers us up from too much hope, quickly: "We’ve Already Reached the Tipping Point on Global Warming. I’ve Seen It." Her stunning photos of the snow-less terrains near the North Pole tell us what's already happened: "we" are not separate from "nature." (For more on Seaman, see here)
Nice article in the Guardian about Nut Brother, a Chinese artist who vacuumed pollution particles from the air to make a brick. "For the last 100 days, the activist, whose real name is Wang Renzheng, has used the industrial appliance to extract dust and other lung-choking pollutants from the city’s atmosphere before transforming them into a dark brown “smog brick”." If you can make a brick about 100 days, then just think of the lungs of those who inhabit such smog-filled places.
Various news outlets have been announcing the discovery of a new candidate for Earth 2.0, i.e. Kepler 452b. The Huffington Post announces: “NASA's Kepler mission team revealed during a teleconference […] that an alien planet similar to Earth, named Kepler-452b, has been discovered in the "habitable zone" of a sun-like star.” Other information here. I particularly like Jeff Schweitzer’s title for his blog post: “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God!” Various websites are thus posting artist impressions of the new planet, from close-up and from afar, for example the New York Times. Strangely contemporaneous with this is the fact that NASA also just released a new image of Earth 1.0, apparently the first image for decades (since the Blue Marble) that isn’t the result of stitching various photos together: “A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.”
Mic.com announces that "ahead of a series of major events later this year, The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Population Media Center released a collection that illustrates the devastating effects of out-of-control growth and waste, and it's breathtaking." The collection includes many breathtakingly frightening extraction landscapes, such as this one (Mining Diamonds).
Day 2 of Approaching the Anthropocene in Santa Barbara was as rich as Day 1, taking a slightly more "eco-depressive" turn, a turn to the darker and the less resolved, to the less activist. In one of the discussion sessions, Susan Derwin recalled Melanie Klein's idea of "the depressive position," which opens out onto potentially productive possibilities ("If the confluence of loved and hated figures can be borne, anxiety begins to centre on the welfare and survival of the other as a whole object, eventually giving rise to remorseful guilt and poignant sadness, linked to the deepening of love" - from Melanie Klein Trust website). Lili Yan (English, Soochow University and Shanghai Normal University Tianhua College) spoke about Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood (2010). Yi Chuang E. Lin (Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan) revisited The Waste Land via the Anthropocene.
Next up: art. Kayla Anderson (New Center for Research & Practice) responded to the idea that Anthropocenic art should propose "solutions," asking instead that it be understood as a response to Zylinska's idea that the Anthropocene presents a "crisis in critical thought." Anderson's presentation discussed various key art projects that fall on one side or the other of this solution-driven/critical-thought divide: Yes Naturally – How art saves the world at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; the agitprop posters and podcasts of Dear Climate; the various projects of Dunne and Raby; etc. Brad Monsma (English CSU-Channel Islands) spoke of the blurring of the art/culture/nature divide at the truly amazing Echigo-Tsumari Triennale around the concept of satoyama ("a Japanese term applied to the border zone or area between mountain foothills and arable flat land" - Wikipedia; and see this book). On the same panel, Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint (U of Rochester/ EcoArtTech) spoke of several of their recent/current art projects that bring us into the "Late Anthropocene"--truly fabulous. In the afternoon, artist, programmer, professor Lisa Jevbratt (UCSB Art) discussed teaching a class on interacting with non-human animals, as well as her app Zoomorph that allows anyone to see the colors of the world "translated" into what different animals would see.
Zoomorph "still lifes" (HUMAN, CAT, hamster, deer)
One of the day's other highlights was Erin E. Wiegand's discussion (San Francisco State, Cinema Studies) of the different ways (heights, technologies, methods) for filming factory farming in her "Visualizing the Factory Farm," with discussion of close-up undercover reporting, drone footage, and satellite imagery. The paper nicely tied up with issues raised through Day 1 about viewing, perspective, citizen-driven environmental cartography, etc.
As these two posts hopefully demonstrate, the Approaching the Anthropocene conference brought together a wild array of smart and fascinating people, working with humility to understand where we are and where we're going.
Project THE HUMANIST anthropocene
is a thought archive and workspace of Phillip John Usher (NYU) at the crossroads of early modern humanism and the problems and insights of the Anthropocene. Main Research Page.
ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment)
Environmental Humanities (journal)
Resilience (A Journal of the Environmental Humanities)
All text and images quoted from other sources used according to fair use. If I have used one of your images and you would like me to remove it, please email me.