BY GRACE PARTRIDGE
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.