From their abstract…
With a critical eye to what aesthetics in/of/through the Anthropocene might mean, we will engage with ways that established forms of perceiving might be transformed in the broadest sense—toward new sensitivities of the long now, and the emergent technosphere that conditions our understanding of it.
“Aesthetics” is often understood as a matter of beauty or style, but the Anthropocene pushes us to reconsider the word’s original meaning (from Greek): to perceive by the senses or by the mind; to feel. Ideas of the Anthropocene have been shaped by a technospheric net of innumerable satellites, cameras, and detectors, resulting in an aesthetic regime composed of data that has been used to narrate profound changes to climate, landscape, and biodiversity over the past 400 years. But what comes after the GIS image? If quantification, abstraction, and the logic of evidential traces have been the means by which we’ve largely come to recognize our purported Anthropocene condition, then the question becomes how we might proceed so that our “sensing” is less “remote,” and forge aesthetics that incorporate not only the representational, but also the lived and affective experiences of various anthropo-scenes.
This workshop will pull at the aesthetics of the Anthropocene as they already exist, and as they might still be invented, exploring how we move from the analysis of specimens into integrated and dynamic forms of participation beyond spectatorship or mere comprehension. Through facilitated, small-group exercises and presentations the seminar will examine influential tropes (e.g. utopic, dystopic, photographic, metric, etc.) and ways that the Anthropocene reinforces or disrupts our default visual languages, and the definition of “aesthetics” itself. Engaging performance, para-fictional research, and design as well as visual art practices, this seminar aspires to mobilize aesthetics beyond the picture plane.
- Shaping the Metaphor
- Images having Geologic impact?
- Frame Theory
- Capitalocene (Donna Harraway)
- Story of a Geologic time
- Human and Nonhuman Discourse
- Speculative Realism
- Bruno Latour
- Heather Davis
- Power of Ten
- Aesthetics = Ethics
- HWK (House of World Culture)
- 1st Campus
- 2nd Campus
- Rob Nixon
- Hito Steyerl
- Glossary of Haunting
- Should we form a reading group?
Jeremy Bolen, Heather Davis, Emily Eliza Scott, and Andrew Yang pooled their efforts to lead Sensing the Insensible: Aesthetics In, Through, and Against the Anthropocene, a group seminar at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s (HKW’s) 2016 Anthropocene Curriculum: The Technosphere Issue. In the following conversation, I meet with three of the four conveners to explore how aesthetic and political concerns are embroiled in conceptions of the Anthropocene and how we determine it’s origin.
Caroline Picard: It’s the last day of the HKW’s 2016 Anthropocene Curriculum and I am with three of four conveners from the Sensing the Insensible Seminar, Emily Scott, Jeremy Bolen, and Andrew Yang.
Andrew Yang: The fourth being Heather Davis.
Emily Scott: The four of us met at the last Anthropocene campus in the fall 2014.
Jeremy Bolen: Andy actually came up with the title for this seminar proposal because Emily and I were working on some projects together. Then Andy and I were working on some projects together so it happened in a very organic way.
AY: Yeah, I mean [Jeremy’s] artistic practice in photography combined with Emily’s background in art history and critical studies, plus my own sort of scientific/art/whatever interests, and Heather’s perspectives from women studies and literature: our collective fields gave us a unique way to consider what it means to represent something. In a visual or aesthetic sense of course, but also addressing the politics of representation, and visuality versus the many other ways that one might sense. We really wanted to also engage that possibility also.
ES: I actually remember a moment from the first campus during a really wonderful performance by the Otolith Group. At one point in this performative lecture, Kodwo Eshun mentioned, I think he was quoting Bruno Latour, though I bet others besides Latour have said this: Eshun made a link between aesthetics and sensitization. I remember thinking, “Oh I love this!” Their whole talk and art project—exhibited at the same time, Medium Earth—was about people who believe that they can sense or predict earthquakes by feeling it in their bodies, sometimes across the world. There was one woman in particular, Charlotte King, who had different parts of her body that tied to different geographies. There are actually a lot of people that believe that they can predict earthquakes. I thought that was an interesting way to think about embodied sensing. It wasn’t until a bit later that we came up with this idea of taking up “aesthetics” and going back to its original Greek meaning: “to perceive or feel.”
CP: Do you find the Anthropocene to be a useful frame for aesthetics?
AY: You can pose the question as you did, so that the Anthropocene is a frame for aesthetics, but we are also interested how aesthetics might be a framing tool for the Anthropocene. That also reveals my own background in the natural sciences, but assuming there is an Anthropocene condition, how does an aesthetic approach give you different access to considering that whole scheme, that whole concept, that whole material and temporal reality? My own view is that our cultural production, as well as the ways that we engage the world, should address “the reality of things.” I was thinking more about aesthetics for Anthropocene as opposed to Anthropocene for aesthetics.
CP: Do you mean to say that shaping and developing the Anthropocene is an aesthetic question?
AY: I think both and that really came out of the seminar with some sophistication. The concept of the Anthropocene is premised on the fact that humans have been these causal agents on a planetary scale. The question is, given that we’ve had that effect, what kind of new causes can we be, what kind of agency can we bring to it? This question of understanding, of shaping the metaphor but also like shaping land, shaping the air, shaping our representations to ourselves and to each other about what all of those things are…We are at a stage now where images have a geological impact as far as I’m concerned and so everything kind of counts in that way. I think it’s all the above.
ES: Yeah, I’ve thought a lot too about the term “Anthropocene” and a number of counter-terms, or terms that critique the Anthropocene—and what kind of work they do. In many cases because, the term itself has so many problems it’s paradoxical; the term could either signify the ultimate centering of the human or the ultimate de-centering of the human depending on which perspective you come from. Then of course there is an obvious problem with lumping all anthropos into one and the flattenings that come along with that, and what kind of geographical biases might come up. The Anthropocene term becomes a key…It’s a framing device for the world.
AY: Yeah, it’s true.
ES: It opens certain kinds of stories and I think a lot of people are very invested in what kinds of stories are being built. What the political material effects of those stories are and what the Anthropocene as a term either opens up or shuts down. Others have created the term “Capitalocene,” for instance—Jason Moore’s term originally, but Donna Haraway also took it up—which provides a different frame of course.
CP: Is the question of aesthetics related to how we decide when the Anthropocene officially began?
ES: Sure. One thing that Heather and I discussed is the considerable amount of weight on around dating the Anthropocene. This year the International Stratigraphic Commission will make a decision about whether or not it’s an official term; they are also tasked with assigning a date. Whatever date is chosen will really inform what kinds of stories are told. There are a lot of people like Heather who—and I tend toward this direction as well—think framing the Anthropocene through colonialism would be an important designation.
CP: Wait, why?
ES: Because it would frame understanding about these complex, Anthropocenic interactions in a politicized way. If the officially-designated Anthropocene start date becomes the first nuclear explosion in 1945, that offers a geopolitical and technological framing, one that opens up another particular set of narratives. Heather made a great point in her introductory input, which came straight out of the introduction to a book she co-edited with Etienne Turpin, Art in the Anthropocene. They argue that the Anthropocene is an aesthetic event.
JB: It’s interesting to go back to the origins question in aesthetics. I agree with you, Emily, but the Stratigraphic Commission is also looking for a trace that impacts the entire earth at one moment and leaves a permanent trace. That’s why 1945 becomes a strong contender. If we rely on their criteria, I wonder what role aesthetics play in deciding the origins.
AY: I suppose as a trace it has to be something that we can be aware of, that can be measurable not just for a snub of a minute but for the lasting future. Maybe as a corrective to what I said before, I think the Anthropocene is a concept but maybe more than that, it’s fundamentally a story, it’s real. Because it writes human history into natural history and a human perspective into a geological, deep time framework. There are a lot of political stakes and importance for the term, but I also think there are metaphysical and existential ones; and those are political as well.
CP: I’m excited by how the constructed and agreed-upon narrative would be as important, somehow, as the material and scientific events themselves…
AY: A narrative gives you self awareness; it’s the story you tell yourself. It is fundamentally an aesthetic proposition because it’s creating a story for oneself that’s built into another much, much deeper story.
ES: People want official determination to legitimize the Anthropocene, and although there’s a feeling that stratigraphers have to find a material trace, that’s nevertheless a very particular way of framing something. It emphasizes geologic matter as a determining factor, representing the way in which science is seen as the defacto authority. I think there a lot of people want to question that assumption. Is it stratigraphers that should be the ones to ultimately decide if the Anthropocene exists or not based on their material findings?
Our seminar explored questions about how the Anthropocene has, to a large extent, been imaged through or represented via a regime of data, scientific language, and a set of representations. Whether it’s the hockey stick graph of climate change, or images of melting glaciers or lots of climate models et cetera, or the emphasis on this geological uniform kind of layer. A lot of people coming from art, culture, politics, or history backgrounds see their expert perspectives as equally important.
JB: This is relevant to the question of origins because it’s become a truly extra-disciplinary investigation, where so many different fields of research are involved. I’m interested to see what they come with up for the origins and who exactly is involved in that decision when it’s finalized.
AY: I think like the –cene in the Anthropocene, asserts a sense of recency, but you wouldn’t know what’s recent without first determining what’s past. That deep past is structured around scientific sensing. I’m not saying that the past and the present—as science constructs them—is always the best approach, but that’s the frame we know and use.
CP: It’s amazing to recognize how deeply scientific thought is integrated with conceptions of past and present.
AY: This new awareness about the true scale of impacts humanity is having on the planet are only sensible and could only be realized through scientific abstraction, reduction, remote sensing. I don’t want to throw that out as if that’s something that’s overly reductive, and abstract and de-humanizing. I still want to defend the virtue of a scientific knowledge but it just can’t be the end point.
JB and ES: Yeah, I agree fully.
CP: Is there a difference between aesthetics and ethics in a way that you are thinking through cross-disciplinary, framing, and narrative?
ES: We didn’t plan to talk explicitly about ethics but it’s interesting how many of our discussions were absorbed by that question. How much can I do, what can I do, where should I position my work, what kinds of practices will lead to material effects in the world.
JB: I feel like we are at a such a different point today than we were two years ago. It feels like information about the Anthropocene has been metabolized; now there’s a want for action more than just discussion. A discussion occurs but what comes up is what do we do and what are the ethics surrounding those actions? I think that overarching themes are the politics of whatever that action might be and the politics of sensing.
ES: Heather opened up her talk with something from Art in the Anthropocene which—I’m paraphrasing but—said that basically art offers a non-moral approach. The virtue in being non-moral is that allows one to hold contradictory perspectives. Her framing of the moral is that it’s rule driven and prescriptive and it can define what’s allowable and what’s not.
That was a controversial statement and that led to this question about whether we want to distinguish morality from ethics and what kind of difference that was. That’s a philosophical rabbit hole, but in her view, the moral was this space of basically hierarchical closing down of new and complex possibilities.
CP: Is an ethical space any different?
ES: I think we accepted that the ethical is the space of ongoing exploration that is not necessarily centered on what’s right or what’s wrong, but rather what’s of value and how you determine or cultivate notions of value. In that regard, I think I would say inherently aesthetics is an ethical proposition because this is a question of why do you even bother to commit yourself in terms of awareness or in terms of representations. Because now, materially or otherwise, every artistic or aesthetic gesture is basically a gesture of production, whether it’s physical, psychological, or energetic—those have real costs. They spend real energy, they absorb people’s attention, sometimes away from things that they could do otherwise. I think for better or for worse it’s fundamentally an ethical consideration for all fields now.
This interview was conducted on behalf of Bad at Sports and the HKW.
Work by Jeremy Bolen
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington Blvd. Reception 6-9pm.
Work by Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen
Boyfriends is lcoated at 3114 w. Carroll St. Reception 7-11pm.
Work by James Kinser and Niki Grangruth
C33 Gallery is located at 33 E. Congress Pkwy. Reception 5-9pm.
Curated by Britton Bertran
Carrie Secrist Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington St. Reception 5-8pm.
Work by Lesley Dill
Center for Book & Paper Arts is located at 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Reception 5-9pm.
Work by Amanda Williams, Emmanuel Pratt and Andres L. Hernandez
Glass Curtain Gallery is located at 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Reception 5-9pm.
Work by Shana Moulton.
Julius Caesar is located at 3311 W. Carroll Ave. Reception 7-10pm.
Work by Autumn Ramsey
Night Club is located at 3325 N. Pulaski Rd. Reception 6:30-9:30pm.
Work by Daniel G. Baird, Kadar Brock, Alex Chitty, Mika Horibuchi, Samuel Levi Jones, Mtthew Metzger, Bryan Savitz, Nick van Woert, Kristen VanDeventer, JPW 3 and Liat Yossifor
PATRON is located at 673 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception 6-9pm.
Curated by Raquel Iglesias and Jacelyn Keework with work by Bobby Gonzales, Allyson Packer, Linda Tegg, Derrick Woods-Morrow, and Guanyu Xu
SAIC Sullivan Galleries is located at 33 S. State St. Reception 6-9pm.
Work by Paula Nacif, Violet Systems, Nanae Shimazu, Christine Janokowicz, Kevin Carey, Lisa Claire Green, Ursula Andreeff, Rebecca Elliot, Maggie Harrington, Julia Kriegel, Coco Menk, Anja Morel, Sawako Okayasu, Vettii, Aaron Von Krupp, Allison Zuckerman, Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Bryan Peterson, Alp Seyrekbasan & Adrien Stein, Reina Taniuchi and Saya Yamauchi
TCC is located at 2547 W. North Ave.; Archer Beach Haus is located at 3012 S. Archer Ave. Reception 6pm-12am.
Work by Jeremy Bolen.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington Ave. Reception Saturday, 4-7pm.
Work by Ashley Morgan and Joseph Morris.
ACRE Projects is located at 1913 W. 17th St. Reception Sunday, 4-8pm.
Work by Ali Aschman.
The Annex at Spudnik Press is located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
Work by Robert Agne.
Packer Schopf Gallery is located at 942 W. Lake St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Sebastian Alvarez, Jeremy Bolen, Irina Botea, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Robert Burnier, Marcus Coates, Assaf Evron, Carrie Gundersdorf, Institute of Contemporary Zoology, Jenny Kendler, Devin King, Stephen Lapthisophon, Milan Metthey, Rebecca Mir, Heidi Norton, Okosua Adoma Owusu, Katie Patterson, Tessa Siddle, and Xaviera Simmons with AOO.
Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.
Work by Sarah and Joseph Belknap
Heaven Gallery is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.
Work by Edie Fake.
Links Hall is located at 3111 N. Western Ave. Reception Friday, 7-9pm.
Work by Hannah Ireland.
Spudnik Pressis located at 1821 W. Hubbard St. Reception Saturday, 6-9pm.
Work by Jake Myers.
TRITRIANGLE is located at 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave. 3rd Fl. Reception Friday, 7-11pm.