Syllabus - "Art After The Anthropocene"

Course
Art after the Anthropocene

Instructor
Simon Pope

Description
This year we’ll 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 creative practitioners 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’ when relating to others?
This three day workshop 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, Jane Bennett, Timothy Morton, and others— those who acknowledge our inextricable entanglement with other things and who might best prepare us for art-making ‘after the Anthropocene’.

Goals

  • To introduce the concept of The Anthropocene as it is understood across disciplines;
  • To identify the challenges for artistic and creative practice in relation to this concept;
  • To enable students to consider their own practice, and those of others, in these terms.

Schedule
Nb. All sessions begin at 10am, and are scheduled to end at 5pm. We will break mid-morning, for  lunch, and mid-afternoon. All sessions to take place at Üferstudios.

DAY ONE MORNING: INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKSHOP
This first session introduces the question of how creative practices can respond to the concept of ‘the Anthropocene’—both in terms of a recognition of the impact that human life has on the planet, but also as a concept that has increasing currency. We will consider how the Anthropocene is understood across a range of disciplines and fields of study before turning to the ways in which artists configure their relationships with various others—from humans, to animals, domestic goods and “forces of nature”—asking what new challenges are presented to us, as practitioners and researchers, now that we are living “after the Anthropocene”.

DAY ONE AFTERNOON: THE ANTHROPOCENE, IT’S DEFINITIONS AND CONTROVERSIES
In this second session we will respond to and discuss the following papers, the first of which  presents a definition of the Anthropocene, and the latter of which asks how contemporary practice (in this case, in geography) might respond to the concept of the Anthropocene.
Steffen, Will, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John Mcneill. “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences 369, no. 1938 (2011): 842–67. doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0327.
Johnson, Elizabeth, Harlan Morehouse, Simon Dalby, Jessi Lehman, Sara Nelson, Rory Rowan, Stephanie Wakefield, and Kathryn Yusoff. “After the Anthropocene.” Progress in Human Geography 38, no. 3 (2014): 439–56. doi:10.1177/0309132513517065.
Please ensure that you have read both of these papers before the workshop and be prepared to take part in the discussion on the themes that emerge from them. You may find that the some of the terms used by the authors are unfamiliar—sometimes alluding to other subject-specific material—but please persevere with these texts as they give an excellent overview of the notion of the Anthropocene and its controversies. (See also Other References list for additional texts and videos.)

DAY TWO MORNING: ART AFTER THE ANTHROPOCENE
In this session we will discuss of my paper, Art After The Anthropocene, in which I suggest that the antagonistic relationships that art and other creative practices often produce contribute to – and art typical of – the conditions of the Anthropocene. We will discuss whether this is indeed the case, and if this is so, whether such practices can be deemed appropriate as we strive toward post-Anthropocenic conditions.

Pope, S., 2015. Art After the Anthropocene: correspondence with Deborah Robinson and Transart Institute workshop participants. In Who Else Takes Part? Admitting the more-than-human into participatory art. Oxford. Available at: www.tinyurl.com/whoelsetakespart–book

DAY TWO AFTERNOON SESSION: DIAGNOSTIC WORK
In this session we will break into smaller groups to discuss the challenges that the Anthropocene presents to our own artistic and creative practices and how we might respond to them. This is a diagnostic and self-reflective session, returning focus to your practice and its development.

DAY THREE MORNING: THINKING WITH THE EARTH.
In this final session we gather as a group to think “with the earth” and to formulate a series of recommendations for making art after the anthropocene. Our collective findings will be collated and published online.

DAY THREE AFTERNOON: TBC

Required Reading
Johnson, Elizabeth, Harlan Morehouse, Simon Dalby, Jessi Lehman, Sara Nelson, Rory Rowan, Stephanie Wakefield, and Kathryn Yusoff. “After the Anthropocene.” Progress in Human Geography 38, no. 3 (2014): 439–56. doi:10.1177/0309132513517065.  pdf

Steffen, Will, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John Mcneill. “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences 369, no. 1938 (2011): 842–67. doi:10.1098/rsta.2010.0327.  pdf

Pope, S., 2015. Art After the Anthropocene: correspondence with Deborah Robinson and Transart Institute workshop participants. In Who Else Takes Part? Admitting the more-than-human into participatory art. Oxford. Available at: www.tinyurl.com/whoelsetakespart–book  pdf

Suggested Reading
“The Anthropocene Project. An Opening.” HKW. Accessed October 12, 2014.

Latour, Bruno. “Dr. Bruno Latour on Climate Change and the ‘Anthropocene.’” presented at the Wall Exchange, Fall 2013, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, UBC, Vancouver, October 17, 2013.

Morton, Timothy. “From Modernity to the Anthropocene: Ecology and Art in the Age of Asymmetry.” International Social Science Journal 63, no. 207–208 (March 1, 2012): 39–51. doi:10.1111/issj.12014. pdf

Materials students should bring to class
Note-taking equipment.

Keywords
Art, Anthropocene, Ecology, Participation