This text aims to define the link between the concept of Anthropocene and the exhibition "Now You Are Here " by asking these questions and taking related discussions in the fields of art and cultural studies as a starting point.
In the first part, we will provide an introduction to the brief history of this relatively new concept in cultural studies and its references to a much longer history from the perspective of science and social sciences. This we will follow with a discussion of international exhibitions in terms of the concept's visibility in the arts, with references to theoreticians who have differing critical views of the concept. Finally, we will provide some insights on the links we established between the works and Anthropocene.
Human reproduction rate has crossed over the critical threshold. There will be much more of us from now on. There have never been this many human beings on Earth until now, while many other species have become or are becoming extinct. According to scientists, the Sixth Mass Extinction has begun. We have been using natural resources lavishly to generate energy. There are many researchers and scientists who examine this process from diverse perspectives. The research in the past 15 years converges on the concept of Anthropocene, a Greek word meaning “the Human Epoch” that was proposed by Crutzen and Stoermer in 2000.[i] According to Crutzen and Stoermer, the scar left by humans on the Earth’s surface has deepened, and the scar turned into an irreversible damage in this epoch. Furthermore, this epoch marks the point when human beings stopped fearing natural disasters like thunder strikes, avalanches, floods, and have instead started creating such disasters of their own making. There is on-going research and discussion on determining the exact beginning of this epoch. Crutzen and Stoermer argued that the concept of Holocene should be replaced by another concept, and proposed Anthropocene.
Discussions on human impact on nature are not news, but the transition from one geological epoch to another one is new, and significant in determining what is “now”. The concept has been approved as a geological epoch in September 2016 thanks to research conducted by members of the Anthropocene Working Group.[ii][iii]
There are differing opinions on the beginning of Anthropocene. One of the three speculative proposals is the thesis that says humans started impacting the Earth with agriculture. According to William Rudiman, Anthropocene started 8000 years ago with humans destroying vast wooded lands for agriculture. Crutzen and Stoermer, who gave epoch its name Anthropocene, start it with the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine at the end of the 18th Century. The third thesis starts the epoch in the 1940s with the atom bomb and the start of nuclear bomb experiments. [iv]
There are also theorists who have a critical view of Anthropocene, which has been an inspiration in the Arts and has had direct impacts on practice of many artists. For example, Isabella Stengers[v] says that Anthropocene proposes a “future perfect continuous” tense here that puts theorists into a very agreeable position. Donna Haraway takes a similar stance with Stengers, and criticizes the concept as being an expression that has meaning for upper-class intellectual scientist while being a hollow term having no significance for indigenous people. Proposing the Chthulucene concept instead of Anthropocene, Haraway[vi] feeds from the Gaia theory to argue that the Earth will remain eternally strong within its own chaotic structure, and that humans can never be a transformational force within this complex Gaia system. Capitolocene, an alternative to Anthropocene used by human beings to write their own history, also faces harsh criticism by Haraway. Haraway finds this concept that is used to explain climate change, and agriculture and seed issues resulting from the capitalist system and fast-paced technological advances weak. Jussi Parikka, an expert on media archeology, criticizes Anthropocene through Anthrobscene, a term he coined himself. With this term he created by combining Anthro, an Ancient Greek word meaning ‘human’, and ‘obscenity’, Parikka criticizes the unabashed exploitation of natural resources by humans on the basis provided by nation-states and private companies through mechanisms provided by science, engineering and governance. [vii]
Discussions on Anthropocene in social sciences and arts are more critical and skeptical in comparison to those in geology and natural sciences. Anthropocene became a topic for many artists, curators and arts institutions along with an attitude that takes into account the impact of economic, social and political structures that lie at the center of this human-made trauma.
Deutsches Museum in Munich hosted the exhibition ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene: The Earth in Our Hands’ between December 5, 2014 and September 30, 2016. This comprehensive exhibition is a major reference with its scientific-research focus.[viii] Another 2016 exhibition that was shaped by the Anthropocene concept was ‘Let's Talk About the Weather: Art and Ecology in a Time of Crisis’ curated by Nataša Petrešin Bachelez and Nora Razian at the Beirut Sursock Museum.[ix] Berlin’s HKW (Haus der Kulturen der Welt) hosted the ‘The Antropocene Project’ in 2013-14 as one of the most extensive and long-reaching projects that brings together cultural studies, art, social sciences, philosophy and science. Sound and video documentation of activities of this two-year project present a significant resource for everyone interested in this topic.[x]
Another source of information are the ‘Generation Anthropocene’ podcasts prepared and published by Stanford University. These recordings consist of enlightening conversations.[xi] Two publications that bring art, architecture and Anthropocene together should also be mentioned here: ‘Art in the Anthropocene’[xii] edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, and ‘Architecture in the Anthropocene’[xiii] edited by Etienne Turpin. These books can be obtained free-of-charge on the Internet and are important resources that bring together names that work on the link between art, architecture and Anthropocene. The Spring 2016[xiv] issue of ArteEast’s quarterly magazine is worth examining as a resource from Turkey. Finally, an important resource is the book ‘Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene” edited by Prof. Serpil Oppermann and Serenella Iovino[xv]. Oppermann is an academic specialized in eco-criticism, who theorizes the links between ecology, Anthropocene and literature.
As people who have made this topic a direct, personal concern, we have set out to compile all works linked the concept of Anthropocene for “Now You Are Here” at Arte, and unavoidably ended up with a limited selection. As we were putting a mark on ‘to-day’, we invited works by artists Kerem Ozan Bayraktar, Eda Gecikmez, Sibel Horada, Evrim Kavcar, Esra Oskay, Elvan Serin, Seval Şener, Mürüvvet Türkyılmaz, and Özlem Ünlü, which we could relate to the concept from our own perspective. There has been many works produced in the context of Anthropocene and ecology, and a part of a process can be observed in the works selected by the curators. We find it important to look at the works one by one in order to show our mental links between them and Anthropocene. Therewith we will also present a mental map of the exhibition.
Kerem Ozan Bayraktar With happy music in the background, Kerem Ozan Bayraktar almostpornographically presents the stark naked moment of death, vanishing andextinction that we deny every day of our lives. There has been a lot of research on the extinction of bees and its impact on Earth.The decline in bee populations is approaching the critical threshold. Bees have amajor role in pollination and their extinction would lead to drastic consequencesin the sustainability of life on Earth and disrupt one of the most importantcomponents of agriculture.1617 How much can we generalize going out from one bee an extinction we face inunawareness, denial and indifference? What else do the last seconds of a bee ona plastic, sticky, sweet, pink and seducing surface bring to mind? Bayraktar’srequiem provides us with the passages to simultaneous, multi-layered interpretations, while telling us about an extinction that is happening right underour noses with harshness concealed behind a hypnotizing aesthetic.
[i] P. J. Crutzen and E. F. Stoermer, ‘The “Anthropocene.” Global Change Newsletter 41, 17–18’, International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP), 2000.
[iii] Jan Zalasiewicz, ‘What Is the “Anthropocene”? - Current Definition and Status’, 2016 <http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/workinggroups/anthropocene/> [accessed 26 January 2017].
[iv] ‘Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction’, in Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, ed. by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015), pp. 3–30 <http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=560010> [accessed 15 January 2017].
[v] Davis and Turpin, ‘Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction’. S:6
[vii] Jussi Parikka, A Geology of Media (Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2015) <http://www.academia.edu/download/44465509/Review_A_Geology_of_Media_Gabriela_Galati.pdf> [accessed 8 February 2017].
[viii] Deutsches Museum, ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’, 2015 <http://www.deutsches-museum.de/en/exhibitions/special-exhibitions/archive/2015/anthropocene/> [accessed 30 January 2017].
[ix] Nora Razian, Art in the Time of the Anthropocene, 2016 <http://www.ibraaz.org/interviews/196/> [accessed 15 January 2017].
[xi] Mike Osborne and others, Generation Anthropocene <https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/generation-anthropocene/id526637040?mt=2> [accessed 31 January 2017].
[xii]Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, ed. by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015) <http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=560010> [accessed 15 January 2017].
[xiii] Etienne Turpin, Architecture in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy (Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2013) <http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/ohp.12527215.0001.001> [accessed 31 January 2017].
[xiv] Nazlı Gürlek, ‘Nature Is Our Body: Editorial Note’, ArteZine, 2016 <http://www.art-agenda.com/shows/arteeast-quarterly-fall-2015/> [accessed 31 January 2017].
[xv]Environmental Humanities: Voices from the Anthropocene, ed. by Serpil Oppermann and Serenella Iovino (London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016) <https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781783489398/Environmental-Humanities-Voices-from-the-Anthropocene> [accessed 10 February 2017].