IMAGE CREDIT: ZAN WIMBERLEY
Our friends at the Earth Issue featured our latest exhibition Anthropocene. Check it out here.
Our friends at the Earth Issue featured our latest exhibition Anthropocene. Check it out here.
When Antidote stumbled across the newly launched The Earth Issue, we knew we needed to speak to them. A beautifully curated print magazine, The Earth Issue is dedicated to using art and image as a driving force for environmental activism; as such, is the epitome of Antidote’s vision – particularly during our Anthropocene focused quarter. We spoke to Elena Cremona, the Founder of the magazine; herself, an environmental and landscape photographer whose work has a dreamy and inescapably melancholic feel that is hard not to be mesmerized by. Graduating with first class Honours Bachelor Degree in Fine Art Photography from the prestigious Arts University Bournemouth, it’s not hard to see why she is enjoying enormous support and success in all her endeavours.
Like Antidote, your opening statement of The Earth Issue ‘About Us’ section presents: ” A collective of artists and creative professionals working at the intersection of fine art and environmentalism.” Why did you choose fine art as the tool for a means of expression? Why do you think it is so powerful when addressing environmental issues?
To me, art and any form of creation has always been the truest form of expression. It comes natural to me that I pick up a camera and try to represent Mother Nature in an artistic form, to me it’s fine art photography. I have always found that art has the ability to influence the viewer’s mind in a way that no other medium can. It teaches about the issues presented in a visual manner – it is the idea that it portrays something real and therefor true, and inherently has the ability to document our reality. For me it’s not enough to just be worried about our planet, I want to actively be someone who is involved in the movement.
Tell us about your work as a landscape and environmental photographer. Did you always love photography and the environment? How did you fall into this as a career?
I have always found great inspiration in nature. There is great romance in solitude; in being isolated from society and being deeply immersed within nature.
To me it’s absolute bliss.
Photography always acted as a tool of connecting emotions and memories to me – and most of my most precious memories were made in nature. It’s an instant connection for me, to pair nature and photography. It’s a personal journey and Mother Earth constantly guides me. I studied photography at the Arts University in Bournemouth, where I realized that I wanted to use my work as a tool to awaken consciousness and create a sense of awareness and respect for our irreplaceable landscapes.
Why do you have a special affection for rocks? Is geology something that you have ever studied or plan to? Also, what is your favourite rock?!
I couldn’t tell you exactly why I have such affection for rocks – it’s just always been like that. Perhaps it’s the link to the foundation of the earth, the origin of it all. The fact that they come in all shapes and forms, all colours and teach us so much about the earth we live on. I mean – there’s so much history in one little rock, a whole life journey!
I was meant to study Oceanography in Southampton but decided to go for photography instead! My favourite rocks are moon rocks, as well as crazy intricate lava rocks.
How did the creation of The Earth Issue come about? We’re so impressed you’ve managed to put together a stunning publication and assemble such a great team. Was it a long time coming?
It all started by trying to make sense of all the different aspects that we are born into. I’ve always found it hard to understand society and the constant preoccupation with needing material things rather than appreciating the planet we inhabit. Humanity has shifted their definition of what it means to be a visitor on Mother Earth’s home. We are now driven by power, money and exploitation, where greed seems to be put above the wellbeing of our planet. I’ve been wanting to create a platform for artists making work directly inspired by nature for a while now, having been involved in previous exhibitions (YOU WILL END BY DESTROYING THE EARTH) that deal with raising awareness for such an important issue.
The Earth Issue 001 publication is a collaboration between Maela Ohana, founder of the Archive Collective, and myself – having come together for our mutual love for the environment. The Earth Issue started as a printed publication and has now grown into a collective of creative professionals working at the intersection of fine art and environmentalism. Organizing exhibitions, workshops, competitions, and educational talks – we hope to challenge the mind set of society, to inspire and harness the power of social change and, most of all, to evoke an emotional and tactile connection between Nature and us.
Most of all, The Earth Issue is about trying to unite all the wonderful nature loving artists and giving them a platform to showcase how influential nature truly is.
What’s the vision for you now? Will The Earth Issue continue and if so, are you planning to expand?
We will be ever expanding our collective as a creative platform through publications, exhibitions, educational talks and other collaborative projects. Our aim is to bring art to the forefront of climate change discussion. At The Earth Issue, we believe that creativity is one of the most powerful tools to effect social change. We want to enable artists who are passionate about nature to unleash their creativity on to the world and stand up for the preservation of our planet. Our Values lie in: Collaboration, nature preservation, sustainability, creativity, integrity, innovation and the educational benefits of art.
Our next exhibition opens Wednesday, 6th of April, and is by Adam Popli. Adam’s Eden explores unique relationship with nature through the creationist concept of Eden – and is open to the public from April 7 – May 20 at Tea Leaf London.
My personal engagement with the Anthropocene began by considering the historical traces hidden within the recently coined neologism: anthropo comes from the Greek for man, while cene is the suffix for geological periods. The realisation that the buzzword du jour of the last few years has a thinly veiled, material commitment to gendering humanity and its geological and political impact informed my curatorial rationale for the show.
My decision to show the works of four female artists was thus based on a need to engage in the infinite dialogues occurring around this idea of the Anthropocene, in a distinctly feminine way. I wanted to see what would happen when art concerning women’s relationships to land, place and land-related labour was framed underneath, alongside and against this idea that humanity (a concept that has long been and continues to be gendered masculine) is the foremost force of geological change (and thus the political entity in control of the Earth and its trajectory).
As you walk through the space, taking in Another Kind of Girl Collective’s documentary film stills, Kawita Vatanajyankur’s endurance performance videos from her Machinized series, Andy Mullens’ experiments with found photographs and thread, and Nicole Monks’ video and installation homages to land, I ask you to consider these women’s encounters and experiences with the Earth. Think about the space these women occupy – the physical space, political space and the intersections of both.
After installing the show with the artists, I walked through the gallery and considered the works all occupying this space as both individual narratives and pieces of art positioned in dialogue with one another; at AirSpace Projects, the artists’ diverse works act as their trace, performing a kind of camaraderie by proxy. Whether you are reading this in anticipation of your journey through the gallery, or as a postscript to your art experience, I invite you to wander through the works and start considering their political stakes with me now, in this text.
Let’s start with the first enclave you encounter upon entrance. Underneath the formidable, capitalised vinyl sign of ANTHROPOCENE that anchors this exhibition from above, one encounters a series of film stills. These are falsely static moments from films made by Syrian women in Jordan’s Za-atari Refugee Camp about their lives, produced with the facilitation of Laura Doggett and Tasneem Toghoj as part of Another Kind of Girl Collective. Hung as a series of candid glimpses into these women’s lives, these photographs interrupt and challenge the human autonomy and agency implicit in the theory that humans are the key agents of geological change to the Earth. Their existence as evidence of the change induced by displacement also questions the privileging of geological rather than social and cultural destruction, which is inherent in a concept like the Anthropocene. How can we have grand conversations about the implications of humanity on the environment, without acknowledging the impacts of people on other people through the many histories and current dilemmas of mass displacement and migration? Are we talking enough about the environmental, social, cultural and political violence of displacing peoples en mass?
Turning into the room to the right of the entrance, our thoughts are diverted by the colourful performances of bodily strength, endurance and pain captured on video by Kawita Vatanajyankur. Her body acts as a personal site of giving voice to the invisible labour of women – specifically Thai women, whose relationship to the domestic labour they perform is far more obviously entangled with the land than Australian women, whose domestic labour is highly mechanised, automated and fragmented, with food in particular incredibly abstracted from its natural source. Her work opens up questions around women’s mark on the Earth and the Earth’s mark on women, which is often mediated by gender. Her work reflects, with humour, spectacle and pain, the differentiation of people’s relationships to the Earth and its produce, based on geographical and social positioning.
Walking deeper into the Anthropocene, down the stairs, Andy Mullens’ pieces Bloodlines and Veil are positioned on opposing walls, in conversation with each other. Both works consider the experience of living in the Vietnamese diaspora through the manipulation of found photographs, which are overlayed or connected through red thread. Mullens’ works, like the work of the many women who created films with the Another Kind of Girl Collective, explore the experiences of displacement and migration. But Mullens’ work explores the diaspora experience without the immediacy of the Another Kind of Girl Collective, instead with the haunting feeling of the long-term effects of migration on cultural identity – again questioning the primacy of geological rather than human suffering and complicating the relationship between humans to land and land to humans.
Further still, in the back nook of the gallery space, Nicole Monks’ each and every morn and selling the earth, invite the viewer to contemplate their place on their land – specifically, on the land we occupy in Australia, which has a long and violent history of colonisation. Monks reflections on land and the relationships humans have with the Earth are wrought through a sensuous audio-visual homage; an installation of Earth matter that is open for human interaction, and Monks’ own rhythmic paratext mounted on the wall beside her two art pieces. These works are usually experienced as the finale of a walk through this exhibition and punctuate a cross-cultural investigation of human’s relationships to the Earth with the sharp reminder that all non-Indigenous peoples living on Australian soil are complicit in a long history of occupation and displacement. Indigenous sovereignty was never ceded.
Image Credit: Elizabeth Farrell
This year has already seen dramatic weather events and even more damning scientific evidence that humanity’s impact on the earth is far more devastating than what most of us might think. The issue itself seems too big to even begin to comprehend sometimes, with many finding it hard to connect to the issue personally or make a difference when the underlying feeling can sometimes lead to a sense of utter helplessness. 2017 has not been shy of tumultuous events and legislation. Already we have seen: a proposed bill to ban asylum seekers from ever entering Australia, complete climate change denial from the US to Australia, a rise in racist far-right parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and – with a predicted global flood of environmental refugees in our near future, these political ideologies will surely cause countless humanitarian crisis worldwide.
I find myself questioning as I scroll down Facebook viewing article headlines that make me want to never go outside, how can art and activism help raise and contribute awareness to global warming issues? How can we use the power of art to shift the viewer’s gaze from helplessness to empowerment? How can we awaken the mind and bring attention to the secrets and closed doors, to the deniers and skeptics?
The voices and minds of the next generation are paving the way for a turnaround that could just save us. Over the past few years a large increase in youth have begun to speak out and change lifestyle habits to benefit the environment. Just two years ago, young Xiuhtezcatl Martinez sued the American government for their failure to act on climate change using the public trust doctrine. Through hip-hop and voice he now travels the world to inspire the next generation to begin looking at the implications of our lifestyles and consequences that our parents are leaving us with. Speaking to Triple J’s Hack, he stated, “ [The court] denied the motion to dismiss. Twenty-one young people overcame a multi-billion-dollar industry and one of the most powerful governments in the world.” The court case is still ongoing. In London, Elizabeth Farrell, more commonly known as Glacier Girl is tackling issues through photography and art, using social media as her ally, by “adapting the aesthetic of ‘eco- friendly’ to appeal to the iGeneration and the uncountable generations to come”.
Throughout history we have seen art and activism work together through festivals, campaigns and protests. Take for example, Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s staged bed sit in against war with their famous slogan ‘make love not war’. In the 1960’s it was the voice of the inspiring Nina Simone that brought a great catalyst of discussion throughout the civil rights movement. And it was Vivienne Westwood that constantly shone a light on climate political activism through her designs on and off the catwalk. What sometimes is ostracised and demeaned by a wider audience is often the very thing that brings to light major issues that need changing. Another example of this can be seen in the acclaimed Lemonade album by Beyonce, which speaks about bringing power to black women and the ongoing violence against black bodies in America. Through her videos and music, Beyonce created a huge shift and empowered millions of people around the world.
When it comes to the environment however, it is very easy for the viewer to immediately categorise anyone interested in sustainability and climate change as being a hemp wearing, tree hugger (which should not even be a criticism in the first place, hemp really is fantastic). We must first establish the relationship between the viewer and the message. Which in many ways has begun to happen over the past few years with celebrities on high platforms using their voice to promote a greater change through fashion, media campaigns and music. Just as, only a few years ago, feminism was stereotyped and belittled, the rise in artists and the shift in gaze created a new dialogue and essentially a new wave of feminism to arise.
When speaking of environmentalism, art helps simplify the complex problems that we face as much more digestible; a spoonful of art makes the imminent destruction of our planet sink in. Through art, we can examine the problem whilst also harnessing the introspective nature of art and seeing ourselves in the picture. Last year, Leonardo Dicaprio and Emma Watson (along with a huge list of other incredible humans) spoke about two issues involving climate change that were then heard throughout the world, and probably to a lot of people who might not have ever heard it. Dicaprio described his work on his film Before The Flood, as “An account of the changes occurring around the world due to climate change” – which he then aired for free. Watson, who created the feminist campaign HeforShe, has been a huge voice and advocate for wearing and recycling clothing, through speaking of the devastating impact that fast fashion has on both people and the environment.
I have personally struggled coming to terms with my generation’s imminent loss of land, water and freedoms that we will face. Around the globe countries, activists and organisations speak out against massive corporations who refuse to look at another option and another way of operating that doesn’t cost the earth. The only way that I can see through this dark tunnel, is through the glimpses that I may catch of someone with a vision, that ignites the torch and uses their power to discuss ways of moving forward; ways of creating a change.
In almost every instance, these sparks of hope draw on art as a vehicle with which to connect deeply and significantly with a wide audience. The expression of human emotion using creative skill and imagination, the expression of voice without words, emotions without race or colour. A way forward.
What needs to happen now, is a shift in political power and a shift in building more community minded space. The continuing growth of youth involved in activism and climate change cannot be ignored. There is too much at stake.
EXIT, 2008. Diller Scofodio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan and Mark Hansen.
Considering the geological, biochemical or hydrologic elements of the Earth feels like an endeavour beyond my realm of expertise as someone whose academic inquiries have been limited to understanding the social, historical and political contexts in which art and culture are made. I mean, my journey to scientific enlightenment has been at the hands of Ross Geller (who taught me all about the Mesozoic era) and Bon Iver (whose dulcet tones brought me the closest I’ve ever come to understanding Holocene). But there’s something about the idea of the Anthropocene that has allowed a niche geological proposition to spread like a virus across academic disciplines, contemporary art practice and mainstream discourse, to the point where I almost feel like you can’t have a proper conversation with people in the culture industry or the humanities if you don’t have a bit of an understanding of anthropogenic culture.
My personal engagement with the Anthropocene really began with an etymological autopsy, as I considered the molecular structure of the word: anthropo comes from the Greek for man or person, while cene is the suffix for geological periods. This is where most of the conversations around the Anthropocene lie, in the sticky space created by a theory that proclaims human activity to be the dominant influence on our current geological era – which makes sense, considering how politically loaded that claim is. But through my googling and my discussions with other curators and scholars, I found that some of the most interesting debates around the Anthropocene are concerned with critically questioning the gaps inherent in the concept. The Anthropocene has become such an inescapable talking point in the feedback loop of academia and cultural practice, in part because of the political ramifications of claiming such a centrality and importance to human existence and behaviour, so there are serious political stakes at play when we start complicating this idea by considering it alongside economic, gendered or hybrid critiques.
Working towards our first quarterly exploration of a politically salient cultural issue at Antidote, we knew we had to kick things off with an investigation into a big, contentious topic. We knew we needed to start our surveys of art practice that educates, stimulates conversation, raises awareness and combats apathy with a theme that not only has serious global resonance, but that can also be explored with nuance, specificity and insight. I’m thrilled to be working with the artists we have on board for our upcoming exhibition, who are looking at ideas around the Anthropocene and how they collide with feminism and various national cultures and interests. Their work speaks to me about the plurality of existence that is perhaps neglected in the term Anthropocene; their practice reveals the intersections and messiness of lived realities in a way that only art can. I see their work as running parallel to and intersecting with academic work that is often incredibly interesting but far less accessible and affective as art practice. I view their work as alternative ways of entering into the kind of thinking that occurs when scholars like Donna Haraway call for us to explode our understanding of the Anthropocene out into an understanding of contemporary life as being bracketed under multiple complimentary and contradictory terms like the Anthropocene, Plantationocene, Capitalocene and Chthylucene; their work gives us points of departure for thought, similar to the ones established by theorists like Jussi Parikka, when he asks us to zoom into the particularities of what he calls the Anthroboscene.
It feels cliché to round this article out by acknowledging that the Anthropocene is a field of study so bloated with thought that it’s impossible for a cultural worker like myself who has not specialised in the area, to offer much new thinking. But that’s the truth. I can’t offer a new take on something that many people have been discussing at length for quite a while now. I can however, encourage you to engage with the amazing work we’ve worked so hard to bring to Sydney in the first quarter of 2017. I can encourage you to engage with that art practice, as a means of entering into some complex and really politically important debates around what it means to use words like Anthropocene, and what particular gendered, national, private and public politics may be hidden within that seemingly straightforward term.
Antidote’s first exhibition Anthropocene will be at AirSpace Projects, 3-18th of March. The show features work by Kawita Vatanajyankur, Laura Doggett, Andy Mullens and Nicole Monks. See more here.