Art and the Anthropocene

Olafur Eliasson Ice Watch Paris COP21 2015

Much of the discourse on Contemporary Art and the Anthropocene focuses on the notion of Othering and the violence inflicted on “others”– both the human and non human considered to be of less value than those making the distinction.

Climate Change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others.

NAOMI KLEIN, in her 2016 Edward W. Said lecture Let them Drown: The Violence of Othering in a Warming World”  suggests that we can learn much from reading Said in a warming world. “He was, of course, a giant in the study of ‘othering’ – what is described in Orientalism as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’. And once the other has been firmly established, the ground is softened for any transgression: violent expulsion, land theft, occupation, invasion. Because the whole point of othering is that the other doesn’t have the same rights, the same humanity, as those making the distinction. What does this have to do with climate change? Perhaps everything.”……

“Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest. And the thing about fossil fuels is that they are so inherently dirty and toxic that they require sacrificial people and places: people whose lungs and bodies can be sacrificed to work in the coal mines, people whose lands and water can be sacrificed to open-pit mining and oil spills. As recently as the 1970s, scientists advising the US government openly referred to certain parts of the country being designated ‘national sacrifice areas’.”


REBECCA SOLNIT  equates Climate change with violence.

“Climate Change is anthropogenic – caused by human beings, some much more than others. We know the consequences of that change: the acidification of oceans and decline of many species in them, the slow disappearance of island nations such as the Maldives, increased flooding, drought, crop failure leading to food-price increases and famine, increasingly turbulent weather. (Think Hurricane Sandy and the  typhoon in the Philippines, and heat waves that kill elderly people by the tens of thousands.)

Climate change is violence. So if we want to talk about violence and climate change – and we are talking about it, after last week’s horrifying report from the world’s top climate scientists – then let’s talk about climate change as violence. Rather than worrying about whether ordinary human beings will react turbulently to the destruction of the very means of their survival, let’s worry about that destruction – and their survival. Of course water failure, crop failure, flooding and more will lead to mass migration and climate refugees – they already have – and this will lead to conflict. Those conflicts are being set in motion now.“

ROSI BRAIDOTTI’s consideration of the posthuman predicament includes the crisis of the ‘anthropos’

‘Life’… is an acquired taste, an addiction like any other, an open-ended project. One has to work at it. Life is passing and we do not own it, we just inhabit it, not unlike a time-share location.(Braidotti, 2013: 133)

“What Braidotti refers to as the posthuman predicament, or living in the times of the posthuman, requires humans to think beyond their traditional humanist limitations and embrace the risks that becoming-other-than-human brings. She steers a complex and sophisticated course between the antihumanism that has been the daily bread of the post-1968, poststructuralist generation, and the techno-utopian transhumanism prevalent in certain circles of science, economy and politics. In what she refers to as her ‘cartography’ – her theoretical trajectory and stance – she affirms both the critique of humanism and the human potential in ‘becoming-other’ in a Deleuzian sense. The decline of human(ist) exceptionalism, the crisis of ‘anthropos’, and thus the current challenges to traditional anthropocentric world views exacerbated by global issues like climate change or the return of the ‘question of the animal’, require, according to Braidotti, a renewed effort by the transformed and interdisciplinary humanities to show that they ‘are worthy of their time’.”

ROSI BRAIDOTTI (2013) THE POSTHUMAN.CAMBRIDGE: POLITY PRESS. ISBN: 978-0-7456-4158-4. Stefan Herbrechter