When Did the Anthropocene Epoch Begin?

The Smithosonian’s Museum of Natural History is mounting a massive exhibition exploring the “Anthropocene” era. It will remain on view until 2019. During the intervening years, the debate that is currently being conducted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the international regarding its official inception may be settled.


Unlike the era, the origin of the debate can be traced back to the 1970s when Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric chemist, discovered a verifiable evidence that humanity had become so dominant on the globe, it was actually influencing planetary conditions. Crutzen linked the increase in human activities to the shrinking of the ozone layer.

As Richard Monastersky reports, as evidence has mounted, there is growing pressure to proclaim the Anthropocene as the official name for the current era, to follow the Holocene and the Pleistocene. But dates for its inception have not gained consensus. Indeed, they span 5,000 years!

 

Red-Earth-2

 

In their ritualized performances, the artists Red Earth evoke the conditions that prevailed during the Neolithic period, the earliest of the proposed dates. However, it seems the geologists chose this date because it initiated many of the technologies and procedures that are currently associated with dangerous environmental disruptions. The artists, in contrast, chose this date because it was a time of attunement between humans and the geological, astronomical, and biological forces of the Earth.

Here are the dates that are currently being considered:

Cultural Schizophrenia: Technological Progress vs Environmental Jeopardy

Contemporary humans may be indulging in the ultimate folly of our 40,000 plus years on Earth by promoting obsolescence in the midst of a global environmental crisis. Schizophrenia is the word that describes the compulsion to pursue short term ‘wants’ that can never be fulfilled, while we fret about long term ‘needs’ being met in the future. The latter will only be accomplished by restraining the former. Escaping this neurotic push-and-pull mentality requires adjusting our attitudes toward the digital culture we inhabit. Instead of associating it with speed and convience, we must focus on the endless heap of network wires, lines, routers, switches and other very material things that deplete resources and contaminate ecosystems when they are being manufactured, then produce a double jeopardy by re-contaminating ecosystems after they are discarded. The hazards persist whether the electronic devices are dumped into landfills, incinerated, or recycled.

Rushing to proclaim ‘obsolete’ regarding contemporary media technologies is providing future archeologists with a new kind of fossil because the components of digital media and their effects will linger far into the future.

Whereas electronic gadget manufacturers announce that ‘progress’ is inherent to quick turnovers, and teams of advertisers and marketers reinforce this message, environmentalists and concerned citizens are fretting about collapse. They know that laptops or mobile phones that promise to be better than previous versions, they will not hold this distinction for long because another update will soon be devised to replace them.

Thus, the temporalities of media objects anticipate the future of archaeology that is likely to disclose irrefutable evidence of today’s mistaken impression  that electronics constitute clean technology.

Chu Yun‘s installation, “Constellation”, suggests a scenario of exorbitant energy use, carbon emissions, heavy metal discards, chemical soaked chips, .

Reverend Billy: Harrassed. Arrested. Arraigned.

Billy Talen has honed his skills and become a powerful disruptive force of social conscience, whether he is saving souls corrupted by consumerism, or pleading for mercy on behalf of bees, or condemning police sinners who use their arms against innocent victims. Recently, the system retaliated…..

Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir comprise a radical performance community of 50 performing members and a congregation in the thousands.

We are wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities all over the world defending community, life and imagination. We compel action in those who have never been activist,  revive exhausted activists, and devise new methods for future activism. We also put on a great show.”

talen - black 2

Sometimes, performance antics collide with real-life threats and punishment:

January,  2015. Reverend Billy Talen was delivering one of his bombastic sermons during a 24-hour #BlackLivesMatter vigil at Grand Central Station in Manhattan. He and his congregationists were protesting the deaths of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and other African American youths who had been killed by police. Strewn about the floor at the event was an array of placards bearing the names of victims of police brutality. Minutes into his sermon police began confiscating the placards. Talen was arrested.

Saraceno: Lighter Than Air?

While most predictions of Earth conditions are characterized as laments weighted with despair and anxiety, Tomas Saraceno is revelling in the utopian possibility he discovered when studying Alexander Graham Bell’s explorations with aviation at the beginning of the last century. While Bell is best known for inventing the telephone, he also experimented with ways to make manned flight a reality.

Saraceno returned to Bell’s prototype and added a futuristic conception of floating buildings. Bell’s century-old flying machine was a tetrahedron-shaped to maximize surface area and minimize weight through the use of pyramid-shaped sails.  Saraceno’s structure retains Bell’s frame construction but updates. Working with the Aerospace Engineering Faculty at Delft University in the Netherlands, he decided to use carbon fiber tubing for the framework and flexible, paper-thin solar panels as the sails. He named it “Solar Bell“. The structure is lighter than air!!saraceno-solar-bell

Landscape Words that Speak to Us

We have forgotten 10,000 words for our landscapes, but we will make 10,000 more, given time and inclination.” This statement was made by Robert Macfarlane, a  leading nature writer who has been collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena. The extraordinary richness of the forgotten words from the English language is a clear indicator of our culture’s disregard for the non-built environment, and the bankruptcy of the spiritual depths and sensual pleasures these words once afforded. They once belonged to the language of ordinary life experience. By contrast, the expansive poetry inferred by single words reveals the uninspiring banality of contemporary modes of speech.

Here are some examples:

Caochan is a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation

Feadan is a small stream running from a moorland lake

Fèith is a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat that is often dry in the summer

Rionnach maoim refers to the shadows cast on the moorland by clouds moving across the sky on a bright and windy day

èit refers to the practice of placing quartz stones in streams so that they sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn”

Eiscir is a ridge of glacial deposits marking the course of a river that flowed under the ice of the last glaciation.

Smeuse means the gap in the base of a hedge made by the passage of a small animal.

Ammil is a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter.

Marjetica Potrc Travels a Lost Highway

For a month last summer, more than 200 people from Europe and the US travelled the Western Balkans as a collective artwork. Its goal was to anticipate the economic, political and cultural geographies of Eastern Europe in the coming years. Marjectica Potrc was one of the participants in “The Lost Highway Expedition”. Other participants represented an international group of architects, artists and urbanists. The expedition will generate an exhibition and a publication that poses new questions and research directions.

As in all of Potrc’s projects, this one dispenses with separatist tactics by circumventing mute audiences and neutral sites. By accessing the creativity of the audience as well as the artist, it approached the art audience as an opportunity for dynamic engagements that are complex, collaborative, and adaptive. It incouraged interactive principles that are non-controllable, non-predictable, and non-immediate.

 
lost-highway-expediitonThe journed proceeded over an actual highway that was built to connect the major cities of Yugoslovia’s republics. It stands as a failed effort to overcome national differences in the pursuit of utopian unity. The collapse of Communism explains the title. Now the highway is ‘lost’.  The Lost Highway Expedition also hopes to establish new networks exploring shared meanings for the future of Europe. Each location initiated new research because each intervention explores a cultural topic that was unique to that locale. The programs of lectures, workshops, seminars, master-classes, and research studios ultimately generated cultural projects such as artworks, performances, exhibitions, architecture interventions, critical writing, etc. These diverse activities were undertaken to open unexpected paths of dialogue among individuals who would not otherwise work together toward a common goal.
 
Each project phase built upon the base for the last one, thus posing new set of questions and determining new research directions. In this manner, ”Lost Highway Expedition” explored such timely themes as native/alien, risk/opportunity, immigration/migration, etic/emic methodologies, political/physical obstacles, etc.

Andy Gracie – Humanity's Fate Determined by a Fly on Saturn's Moon?

‘Far out’ is a phrase that accurately describes the place in the cosmos where Andy Gracie‘s ongoing project, “Drosophila Titanus”, is destined. It also applies to Gracie’s attempt to merge the outer reaches of scientific exploration and its rigorous methodologies, with the unbounded imagination of an artist. 

Gracie has undertaken a bold initiative to breed a species of fruit fly that is theoretically capable of living on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

Continue Reading »

TWO RISKS: Ethical Limitations and Scientific Advances.

Leonardo dissected animals, yet it is mostly now that ethical misgivings regarding artists tampering with biology is being debated. This indignation is directed at the presumptions of human dominion that are exhibited by artists tampering with biology through tissue, cellular, and molecular laboratory maniplations. Such misgivings were recently expressed on an eco art list serve in response to a post announcing the establishment of ‘Biofilia – Base for Biological Arts‘, launched in 2012, that claims to be the only fully equipped biological lab that is operated by an art school. Its website explains its mission, “It provides artists, researchers, students and scholars with the ability to engage with the life sciences and their applications within an artistic and cultural context, thus creating creative and critical links between biosciences, engineering and the arts.”

One objection to artists adopting living matter as an art medium focused on the assumption of hierarchies of life and that these hierarchies are measured against a human yardstick. Another was sadness that artists seem to manipulate life just because they can, ignoring the rights of small organisms, fungi, or other non-humans. The unknowns associated with such explorations were referred to as ‘terrifying’, and the absence of joy, connection, or knowledge passed down from our ancestors was described as ‘distressing’.

It is not suprising that Ionat Zurr and Oron Catts, artists and founders of the SymbioticA – Centre for Excellence for Biological Arts in University of Western Australia are affilitiated with this new program. What may be surprising is that they do not defend themselves against such accusations. Indeed, they dwell upon them, write about them, and stimulate public debate about them.

Tissue-Culture--Art-WORRY-DOLLS

China: OLD and reFASHIONED

Let us place Yun-Fei Ji‘s  quiet protest against the construction of dam  into two categories: China past and China present.

CHINA PAST: For 2,000 years, China’s villages were unchanged. Wooden buildings everywhere manifested ancient skills related to carpentry, lacquer, paint pigments, resins, textiles, etc. That ended at the turn of the 20th century when the ancient Confucian social  system began to crumble. It precipitated an assault on China’s ancient art traditions and architectural heritage when China began the process of Westernization. The 1949 Communist Revolution hastened the process. Then, during the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976, Mao waged a national campaign against “the Four Olds”—old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.

CHINA PRESENT: China abandoned extreme communism and adopted extreme capitalism.  Johnson Chang, an art entrepreneur/curator, decided to redeem the past. He began by choosing attire consistant with his mission. He wears traditional Chinese peasant garments – a black cotton jacket with a Mandarin collar, loose trousers, and handmade leather slippers. His fierce commitment to reviving  ancient Chinese culture is also evident in an ambitious curatorial project.  Working with a group of artists, he is creating an entire traditional Chinese villagein a ruined factory zone on the edge of Shanghai. Ancient building methods that were almost lost to living memory. The village is not a commercial tourist destination. He intends to use it as a working center for traditional Chinese artists, craftsmen and musicians.

Jinze-detail

Michael Heizer's 'Land'

‘Land’ connotes soil to a farmer, property rights to a lawyer, commodity to a developer, voting district to a politician, habitat to an ecologist, yard to a suburbanite, resource to an economist, playground to a child, overburden to a miner, resource to a farmer, scenery to a tourist, etc. What is ‘land’ to an artist?

Michael Heizer is not typically associated with the long history in Western art of landscape painting that first appeared in the frescoes from Minoan Greece around 1500 BCE. Within this tradition, artists approach ‘land’ as scenery. Such artists  frame a vista and meticulously record its visual contents.  Land, thereby, is a rich repository of optical evocations. It provides ready-made compositions consisting of spaces, lines, symmetries, balances, textures, colors, and shapes. Heizer’s 1971 photographic installation, “Actual Size: Munich Rotary”, not only continues this tradition, it interrogates it. Heizer-actual-size