University Of Tasmania
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Affect and the Anthropocene : the art artefact and ecological grief

posted on 2023-05-28, 09:28 authored by Phillips, CF
Here we stand, each one of us one primate among billions in a species that has overrun and ruined its habitat, heading for a population correction the likes of which the human world has never seen, on a wobbly spinning rock with a rapidly warming atmosphere in a distant corner of the galaxy, a temporary accumulation of star dust, once was nothing, will again be nothing, is nothing now but electrochemical pulse and biological striving, a flicker in the web of being. ‚Äö- Roy Scranton (2018 p.316) The term Anthropocene in its current sense was first proposed in 2000 by scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer to denote significant human action on natural world systems. Crutzen and Stoermer claimed that the term reflected 'impacts of human activities on earth and atmosphere' and emphasised 'the central role of mankind in geology and ecology' (Crutzen & Stoermer 2000, p. 17). The Anthropocene epoch, although as yet not officially ratified, is widely understood to mark an era in which human actions have significantly impacted the planet. It proclaims 'a new cultural and physical space that has not previously been experienced' (Robin & Muir 2015) and as such requires a rapid paradigm shift. The project Affect and the Anthropocene: The Art Artefact and Ecological Grief addresses some of the questions emerging from these new spaces with particular focus on climate change induced experiences of 'ecological grief' (Cunsolo & Ellis 2018, p.275) and 'solastalgia' (Albrecht et al. 2007, p. S95). The project actively engages with process as a significant metaphor, drawing on forms of material agency, considering the impact of human intervention and its limits, the entangled state of human, nature and object and the juxtaposition of human culpability and vulnerability in this contested era. Visually these qualities are evoked through landscape-oriented artefacts which draw on personal imaginings and reallife events to undermine the narrative of human control and express a sense of precarity, dystopian futures, futility and loss. New materialism informs the research methodology which insists on a non-dualist position, an assemblage of artist and materials. These processes are utilised in the research to suggest ideas of threat and uncertainty, the competing narratives of control and agency, and explore a psychological and a speculative biological re-ordering of the relationship between humans and nature in response to momentous threat. With reference to the theories of Glenn Albrecht, Ashlee Cunsolo and Neville Ellis, Clive Hamilton, Jane Bennett, Karen Barad, Naomi Klein and Roy Scranton amongst others, key concepts that have emerged from the Anthropocene space are psychological effects such as solastalgia and ecological grief, the entangled human‚Äö-nature relationship expressed through the agency and combinations of materials, and process as metaphor. Artists who inform the project include Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Mincham, Abbas Akhavan, Zina Swanson, Fiona Hall and Hayden Fowler. This research contributes to Anthropocene discourse by reaching beyond a scientific and geological framework to recognise the importance of understanding, as Bostic and Howey claim, that 'other disciplines necessarily come into play when we broaden inquiry to understanding the profound shifts the Anthropocene presents for human and natural history' (Bostic & Howey 2017, p.105). Hulme asserts that the sciences alone are ill-equipped for 'engaging with and articulating the deeper human search for values, purpose and meaning' required in response to Anthropocene challenges such as climate change (Hulme 2011, p.179) necessitating engagement with disciplines such as the creative arts in this role. Responding to the tensions of this somewhat contested epoch and its extensive influence on creative practice, the research addressed methods for engaging with and visually responding to this unstable and unprecedented era, a time in which Masco calls for 'new points of orientation' for us 'vulnerable, if hyperactive earth dwellers' (Masco 2015). Braidotti suggests an 'all-pervasive paranoia: the constant threat of the imminent disaster' under which we presently function, which has led to 'melancholia' thriving as a 'dominant mood and a mode of relation' (Braidotti 2009, p.42-43) The question as to the role the art artefact and the process of its creation plays in expressing emotion and acknowledging, legitimising and making sense of human fears of powerlessness and futility in an era characterised by slow violence, uncertainty and loss of control is addressed visually and theoretically through this research.


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