Life in the Anthropocene: Environmental Exhibitions for the Human Epoch

January 3, 2015 | Published Articles, Writing

Originally published by Artslant, Jan 2015.

I go back and forth between feeling like Anthropocene is a buzzword for contemporary hysteria—our generation’s equivalent to the Cold War—and recognizing it as a practical reality. Either way it is the nexus point between published facts and our dogged consumerist lifestyles: we live in the 6th Great Extinction, yet guzzle gas and consume plastic with aplomb. Responding to an already lush rubric of 2013 exhibitions, several 2014 shows explored ecocritical themes, as will a number of presentations in the coming year, all composing vivid curatorial landscapes that challenge our historical approach to the material world.

Perhaps that’s why Philippe Parreno’s 2013 exhibition left such an impression when I caught the tail end of it in January 2014. Parreno gutted the Palais de Tokyo, creating a surreal, interactive environment that conveyed an end-times-feeling. A few months later Angelika Markul installed her three-part exhibition, Terre de départ (Land of Departure) in the same museum’s ground floor space, where she set a white stage for a large video screen. The platform extended to support a set of white debris: pipes that looked like they may once have been used in a playground swing set. On screen she projected footage from Chernobyl where the camera pans around, capturing a too-still forest punctuated occasionally by abandoned buildings. Everything feels frozen in time—a feeling I remembered when reading that trees in Chernobyl don’t decompose; latent radiation prevent fungi, microbes, and certain insects that would otherwise turn fallen trunks into dirt. An adjacent room in Markul’s exhibit opened up on the artist’s two-channel projection of twin backwards flowing waterfalls. They flickered cast light over Markul’s surrounding installation—hard to see in the dark, reading nevertheless like a pile of dead and inert bodies washed up in an oil slick. In her final video a 2001-like telescope shifts with robotic grace, presumably to see the sky beyond the human eye. Read more here.