Next year we will find out whether the International Commission on Stratigraphy has ratified the use of the term ‘anthropocene’ to describe a new geological epoch ‘during which humans have a decisive influence on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system’. Whatever the outcome, headlines such as “Rocks Made of Plastic Found on Hawaiian Beach” serve as reminders of the profound transformations that humans perform on those things that we once considered separate from us—whether a different animal species or type of material. Far from being inert matter or undifferentiated environment, we now admit to the complex and entangled relationships that these things have with humans and other beings: the worms ingested into our gut to exercise the human micro-biome, the mosquitos co-dependent on the improvised architecture in laboratories, the mercury washed from a paper mill, ingested by the fish which now rests on our plate. All things—human or otherwise—are agents, capable of entering mutually transformative relations with others.
Our training as contemporary artists is largely shaped by the legacy of the avant-garde and its antagonism towards its contemporary and historical Others. Through techniques of estrangement, inversion, destruction and distanciation we inherit the means to ensure art’s autonomy. But how appropriate are these ‘tricks of the trade’ when we acknowledge our inevitable entanglement with others? Can we still appeal to art’s ‘aesthetic alibi’ in deploying them in relating to others?
This one day seminar develops a narrative through which we will ask how art and other creative practices might engage with the world once we acknowledge that we are living in the Anthropocene. We will be accompanied by examples of artists’ practice which exemplify a range of dispositions towards this more-than-human, vibrantly material world. We will wonder at the hubris of ‘the moderns’, the audacity of the avant-garde and the sadness of the retreat into the imaginary. Our hopes will be raised by Donna Haraway, Felix Guattari, Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers, Jane Bennett and Timothy Morton— those who acknowledge our inextricable entanglement with others things and who might best prepare us for art-making ‘after the anthropocene’.
Simon Pope’s (b. 1966, Exeter, UK) recent work, such as A Song, A Dance And A New Stannary Parliament (2014) and Primary Agents of A Social World (2014) is preoccupied with participatory art’s engagement with nonhuman things and the formation of more-than-human communities or publics. These concepts form the basis of Pope’s current doctoral study at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford. Formerly a member of the Net.Art group I/O/D, Pope represented Wales at the Venice Biennale in 2003.
More information available at http://www.tinyurl.com/simonpope