EXIT, 2008. Diller Scofodio + Renfro, Laura Kurgan and Mark Hansen.
BY GRACE PARTRIDGE WITH INPUT FROM EMMA SIZE
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.