The Great Pacific Garbage Patch of almost 192 million pounds worth of marine debris is floating somewhere in the ocean between California and the Hawaiian Islands. The patch five the size of Poland causes the extinction of over 5 thousand animal species a year. It has already wiped out over 95 per cent of the organisms in the Great Barrier Reef. Within the next couple of years, we will most probably witness the death of the entire coral reef. An exponential number of research lends credence to the irreversible human impact on the current state of the environment. In the wake of the eighteenth century agricultural revolution, humanity has established its dominance over animals, nature and its resources. As a result, some experts argue that we already live in the so called Anthropocene- the human epoch- although a scientific debate about the actual gravity of our environmental footprint on earth, which would justify its announcement, remains unresolved. Nevertheless, the Anthropocene has not only become an environmental and humanist buzzword, but also a point of reference for many contemporary artists.
A new geological epoch is declared in accordance with a dating system based upon the major events altering the Earth’s life and strata, such as the separation of continents, formation of mountain ranges and oceans, animal species’ extinction, global warming, cooling periods etc. This time around, a geological epoch was supposedly triggered by humans.
According to some experts in geology, archeology, ecology and oceanography from the so called Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009, humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch needs to be defined clearly. However, for the term Anthropocene to be officially adopted, numerous independent research groups and institutes must verify and confirm the data. Regardless of the experts’ final recommendation, one thing is certain: the ongoing vigorous debate has already captured the imagination of philosophers, artists and other creative minds. Trailblazing exhibitions addressing the subject of the Anthropocene were staged five years ago. Nowadays, the term has attracted attention of many curators and artists. Some universities offer courses in “the anthropocene art.” Whereas, filmmakers gravitate towards the apocalyptic vision of the world ravaged by humanity that has to fight for survival and pay the price for its thoughtless exploitation of natural resources. The notion of the Anthropocene seems to have penetrated deep into the popular culture, art and public discourse.
There’s no easy answer to the questions posed by the Anthropocene, since those answers pertain to the unfathomable future, to the collective rather than personal experience. First and foremost, any debate on the matter boils down to the needs and survival of the human race. Any deliberation is bound to get bogged down in overtly dramatic and defeatist undertones. No wonder, “the human era” manifests itself in, for instance: heavy urbanization, imminent depletion of fossil fuels formed from organic material over the course of millions of years, climate change, air pollution, greenhouse gas emission and the sixth extinction.
“Human Nature” is the title of the solo and joint exhibition programme that builds a narrative about the human relation with nature. The art projects of Mathieu Asselin, Claudius Schulze, Mandy Barker and Anouk Kruithof emphasize people’s devastating impact on the environment. Meanwhile, Dornith Doherty, Robert Zhao Renhui, Alberto Giuliani, Lena Dobrowolska & Teo Ormond-Skeaping document the initiatives aimed at counteracting the dynamic paradigm shift in the environment and its consequences, which are virtually impossible to predict. Those artists are neither the dreamers nor fatalists despite the fact that their projects propose certain solutions to the burning ecological issues which could be implemented in the foreseeable future. Instead, they choose to question the role, scope and purpose of the man-made system of environmental protection, which, among other things, seems contingent upon people’s willingness to cease treating nature instrumentally. The statement is perfectly illustrated by the works of art by Karolina Grzywnowicz, Joanna Rajkowska and Anna Zagrodzka presented on the exhibit entitled Inter-species Conservation curated by Aleksandra Jach that embraces the idea of nature as our equal partner. In this case, the eponymous conservation, viewed in terms of process, correlation and change, refers not only to landscape, but also man-made objects.
A majority of artists based their projects on an extensive research, consulted scientific journals, articles and archives, collaborated with experts in various fields, as well as participated in the science expeditions. They’re all actively engaged in disseminating their findings concerning the plight of the Anthropocene.
CURATORS: Marta Szymańska, Franek Ammer, Agata Zubrzycka, Justyna Kociszewska and Krzysztof Candrowicz.