Environment is a common denominator for a number of nature―culture interfaces and protocols, for example, environmental law, environmental ethics, environmental art, and environmentalism as a social movement. Environment is distinct from nature, it is a simultaneously narrower and broader concept. The distinction has been summarised in these terms:
The term ‘environment’ in [a] narrow sense implies an environment for some creature or collection of creatures, whether plant or animal. Here, an ‘environment’ is ‘environment’ for something. But we also frequently use the term … to refer to the whole of the natural world—from ecosystem to biosphere—within which human beings and all other parts of the plant and the animal world have their being. (Connelly et al., 2012: 20)
Environment is often equated with nature, however, it carries with itself a number of specific causal and onto-epistemic presumptions. As Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopolous argues, etymologically speaking, “environment comes from the word environs, in its turn coming from the French words en (‘in’) and virer (‘to turn). This implies an inside that stands erect and an outside that surrounds this inside and turns around it” (2011: 11). Understood in this sense, environment places the human at the centre, maintaining a ‘centralised geography’ like the pre-Copernican universe.
The word has been one of the preferred concepts of the environmental movement from the 1960s on. This is no place to discuss the specifics of how ‘environment’ has been conceptualised through a history of the movement, but it is of interest to point out some recent developments. The notion of environmentalism at large was criticised by Michaell Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in their provocative article ‘The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World’ in 2004. In a subsequent interview, they claimed that the notion of ‘environment’ is antithetical to the goals of the green movement:
what we include and exclude in the category of ‘the environment’ is utterly arbitrary. The human animal is as much a part of the environment as a mahogany tree or a raindrop. Defining humans as outside of the environment is scientifically specious and politically suicidal. But if humans are part of the environment then the concept of the environment is meaningless. (in Andrews, 2006)
What Shellenberger and Nordhaus are referring to is the problematic ways in which the word has been put to use in public and political discourse. Erik Swyngedouw analysed how environmentalism contributed to a ‘post-political’ context, contributing to “consensualise climate change” through a projection of a common foe that “requires dealing with” (ibid.: 269). In this case, paradoxically, the environment becomes an enemy, a danger looming at the horizon, a constitutive mechanism of ‘risk society’. In this analysis, environment as something ‘out there’ can be instrumentalised to externalise what is most intimately bound with human actions, especially operations of capitalist production. Swyngedouw proposes a reverse move, it “is not any longer about bringing environmental issues into the domain of politics … but rather how to bring the political into the environment” (ibid.: 254-5). This is a move towards the edges or the borders of the ‘great outdoors’, not to cross the threshold into some ideal outside (of capitalism, of modernity, or so), but to deconstruct the mechanisms by which the borders are erected and reproduced. Since 2011, things have changed somewhat, and environmentalism has reinvigorated under the banner of climate change (see below). However even recently, Bill McKibben, a prominent figure in the movement, wrote that “we’re under attack from climate change” and we need to “mobilise” like in times of war (2016), thereby reasserting a certain discontinuity between humanity and environment.
The erratic history of cybernetics is something of a doppelgänger to the development of ecology throughout the 20th century, as cybernetics has exerted significant influence on ecological thought. What is of interest here is how the cybernetic binary of system―environment may be an alternative to the nature―culture binary, and what the promises and forfeits of this approach are.
The Macy Conferences held in New York 1946-53, were a cross-disciplinary hotbed of the ‘first-order cybernetics’ (Capra, 1996: 64-5; Hayles, 1999: 50-83). Drawing on the early information theory of Claude Shannon, a group of researchers, most prominently Heinz von Foerster, John von Neumann, and Norbert Wiener, treated biological and technological systems in terms of feedback loops based on the circulation of information. In an important sense, cybernetics is perhaps the first modern science that tried to work horizontally across the division between nature and culture. At the same time, its peculiar mingling of science with engineering applications produced highly problematic ethico-political outcomes. First-order cybernetics was conceived as a ‘science of control’ or a science of ‘steering’ (taking from the Greek origin of the word kybernetike which stands for ‘governance’)1. Cybernetics attempted not only to understand biological systems better, but to create informational machines based on biological systems. This transposition was achieved by adopting an ontology based on information, in which it does not a priori matter if the system in question is a human body, an animal, or a computer. According to Shannon’s information theory, information stands for “pattern, not a presence”, the distinction between “signal” and “noise” (Hayles, 1999: 18). In Bateson’s more general description, information is “a difference that makes difference” (1972: 315). In line with the pre-eminence of mathematicians in cybernetic circles, information was understood qualitatively, and cybernetic loops were ‘open systems’ that operated based on inputs and outputs, following Ludwig von Bertallanfy’s general systems theory. The goal of the system was to reach a dynamic homeostatic equilibrium (a famous example in this sense was thermostat, which adapts to fluctuations in temperature, yet is a closed loop).
The passage towards a ‘new cybernetics’ is exemplified by the work of Gregory Bateson. In a joint interview with Margaret Mead, Bateson positioned the observer inside the observed system: “essentially your ecosystem, your organism-plus-environment, is to be considered as a single circuit” (in Brand, 1976). In what would then come to be called ‘second-order cybernetics’, the key proponents were biologists, which also markedly changed the emphasis. Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela explained life through the key notion of ‘autopoiesis’, which stands for ‘self-production’ (1992: 43). Organisation of an autopoietic system consists of a boundary-making process and the production of its own components (ibid.:46-7). Systems “constitute and maintain themselves by creating and maintaining a difference from their environment, and they use their boundaries to regulate this difference” (Luhmann, in ibid.:144). A system selects its own “system-states” based on information that is generated within the system. Put differently, “systems or substances do not communicate with their environments … systems only relate to themselves”. (Luhmann, in ibid.: 148). A system “can see only what it can see” (Luhmann, in ibid.: 160). In Maturana and Varela’s autopoetic cybernetics there is no such thing as information in the sense of a message transmitted among two entities: “Information, sensu strictu, does not exist” (in Hayles, 1999: 155). However, systems are dependent on other systems. Whilst they are organisationally closed, systems are ‘selectively open’ to their environments in terms of flows of energy and matter. The way systems survive is by maintaining organisation, which is linked to questions of the autonomy and individuality of the system. Systems engage in ‘structural coupling’ with other systems, which is “a history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems” (Maturana & Varela, 1992: 75).
The key concern of autopoietic theory was how systems maintain boundaries, which reveals a bias towards self-organisation and autonomy of a system over matter. These binaries are somewhat understandable from the disciplinary positions of Maturana and Varela, but they betray a hierarchical world-view. Maturana and Varela held that human societies are superior to other biological organisations because the components in them achieve the highest degree of autonomy (1992: 199). Niklas Luhmann’s theory of self-referential systems (1995) attempts to extend general systems theory to explain complex social systems. Luhmann’s elaboration of autopoietic theory creates a more complicated account of system/environment inter-relations and ‘interpenetrations’. However, in Luhmann’s system, there is no domination, as the systems are fundamentally self-descriptive. Though Luhmann’s theory has been productively used in ecological thought, I find its basic postulates problematic in view of posthumanist justice.
A more dynamic conception of environment is articulated in Gregory Bateson’s ecosophy. For Bateson, contrary to Maturana and Varela, “learning the contexts of life” is a process of learning through inter-action with other organisms and is a key practice of organisms. “Cross-species communication is always a sequence of contexts of learning in which each species is continually being corrected as to the nature of each previous context” (Bateson, 1979: 118). Following the cybernetic tradition, Bateson sees this ‘continuous correction’ as a ‘sequence’ of feedback loops which happen within the context. In this context, informational boundaries of entities may change through interaction and “an evolution of fitting together” (Bateson, 1979: 138) may take place. Bateson’s informational analysis is based on an enlarged conception of mind, the so-called ‘immanent mind’:
Mind is a necessary, an inevitable function of the appropriate complexity, wherever that complexity occurs. … a redwood forest or a coral reef with its aggregate of organisms interlocking in their relationships has the necessary general structure. (Bateson, 1972: 488)
For Bateson, ecology is fundamentally an issue of epistemology, an ‘ecology of ideas’. Bad and good ideas correspond to the larger interests of ‘the unit of mind’ an organism is partaking in:
The unit of survival is organism plus environment. …. a very strange and surprising identity emerges: the unit of evolutionary survival turns out to be identical with the unit of mind. [original emphasis] (ibid.: 489)
Bateson was in his many lectures vocal in denouncing the ‘epistemological fallacies’ of the modern mind, and asked for a re-organisation of society to adapt better to the larger immanent mind. His is a powerful denouncement of the logic of dualism, however, it privileges one of the superior sides of modern dualisms i.e. rationality, mind, organisation. Guattari, who was an admirer of Bateson’s work, points out that mental ecology is one of at least three ecologies, the other ones being social and environmental. These other ecologies, I believe, need not operate through the logics of mind and information.
Perhaps the most lasting impact of cybernetics has been the establishment of an ontology of information. Information is one of the less obvious yet crucial modern dualisms. Even outside of its binary instantiations in the digital, information in cybernetic tradition performs a cut between signal and noise, between what matters for a system and what does not. Even though cybernetics recognised a plurality of environments, they were all ultimately subsumed under the same operative logic thereby excluding a possible diversity of ontologies. Ontology of information has, thanks to the work of cyberneticians, permeated the social field as few other concepts have, impacting a number of sciences and models of social organisation. Attempts to reduce the world to information is an ongoing project of modernity (e.g., cartographic logic), but cybernetics has upped the game by claiming that life operates informationally. Through these claims, informational ontology came to shape the groundwork for a generalised ‘society of control’ which operates according to the ‘numerical language’ of codes (Deleuze, 1992). French radical collective Tiqqun may be right to say that the ‘cybernetic proposal’ (2001) has, through the spread of new technologies of information and communication, turned into a program of total dominion. My aim here is not to dismiss information technologies, which have brought numerous scientific and social benefits, but to draw attention to the fact that information, when taken as ontology, historically gave support to a generalised project of informatisation or, more recently, ‘datification’ of the environment. Each bit of information is based on a procedure of exclusion, and this is something that I believe a more-than-human ecology should explore critically to see who/what is included and excluded. Ultimately, with its emphasis on epistemology, cybernetics institutes a representationalist ontology, a dualism between representation and represented that may not be open to different types of more-than-human collectivity.
Cybernetics of information has exerted considerable influence in visual arts, and continues to be a working method in today’s eco-arts. Perhaps it would be impossible to imagine the contemporary society without information, and this is not my goal. My interest lies in accounting especially for what is beyond (or outside) information. This does not amount to refuting technology, but to re-imagining other, more hybrid and open, ways of acting with a more-than-human world.
Important interfaces to describe the human―environment relation are notions of ‘place’, ‘location’ and ‘site’. Geography, ecology and art meet in these notions. Site-specificity is a key component of eco-aesthetics, and in this section I will show how this notion stands in relation to the logic of dualism and with the contemporary globalised networks of information and capital.
In its geographical definition, place is “a meaningful location” (Cresswell, 2004: 7). Location stands to indicate a geographical position, a locale for “the material setting … the actual shape of place” (ibid.), and sense of place is “the subjective and emotional attachment people have to place” (ibid.). Place thus presupposes a physical location, and the presence of humans who provide this location with (social) meaning.
The above understanding of place as a grounded “locale” has been destabilised by the affirmation of ‘postmodern space’ (Soja, 1989), the space of global economic exchanges that creates ‘time-space compressions’ (Harvey, 1989). As Fredric Jameson exemplified in his analysis of the architectural experience of Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, postmodern spatiality is a feeling of being ‘out of place’, “individual subjects [are inserted] into a multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities” (Jameson, 1991: 413). This is a globalising space characterised by informatic‒financial networks that radiate from ‘global cities’ (Sassen, 2007) and jointly constitute the ‘space of flows’ (Castells 1996: 442-446)2. In these readings, place is often pitched as the opposite of global networks, and is seen as a terrain of resistance. However, as David Harvey insists, by criticising Heidegger’s concept of ‘dwelling’, a place can also mean an exclusionary “place identity” (1996: 295-99), which performs an insider―outsider separation. Different conceptions of place are perhaps needed to understand and work within the spatio-temporalities of postmodernity.
Michel de Certeau provides a cue of how to overcome place―network oppositionality:
A place (lieu) is the order (of whatever kind) in accord with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence. It thus excludes the possibility of two things being in the same location (place). (de Certeau, 1984: 117)
De Certau provides a topographical reading of place based on a linear Euclidean geometry in which things cannot be juxtaposed. However, a place is dynamic, as it is never finally determined. Social narratives and ‘spatial practices’ are constantly engaging in processes of either “marking out boundaries” (ibid.: 122), or creating points of contact or ‘bridges’ (ibid.: 126). A truly networked understanding of space can be found in Doreen Massey’s ‘global sense of place’, the place as ‘a meeting’, ‘a process’ (Massey, 1994:154). Places “do not have boundaries in the sense of divisions which frame simple enclosures” (ibid.: 155), they are changing and permeable. Importantly, the links with the ‘outside’ constitute the place too. Massey claims that a place cannot exist in a vacuum or isolation; a sense of place “can only be constructed by linking that place to places beyond” (ibid.: 156). This is an evolution from place as opposed to the outside, towards an understanding of place as part of a network. Place is where physical location converges with a collective imaginary, a ‘sense’ of belonging, dwelling, cohabitation. Thus, place implies a politics of hospitality or of fencing off. However, all of the above notions have a distinct anthropocentric ring, as their meaning is created primarily through the presence, action and perceptions of humans.
‘Site-specific’ practice is one of the key historical attributes of eco-aesthetics, inasmuch as it implies working in the field or on ground. Since its inception, site has had a potentially networked dynamic. Robert Smithson laid out the dialectic of ‘Site/Non-Site’ to describe the tension between the location of his artwork (outdoors) and its representation (in the gallery). Non-Site functions as a “three dimensional logical picture”, a ‘dimensional metaphor’ of the Site (Smithson, 1968). For Smithson, site is permeable and works in tandem with its (displaced) representation, prefiguring the dynamics of networked communication and global flows. More recently, James Meyer reworked this model into a distinction between ‘literal site’ and ‘functional site’ (Meyer, in Suderburg, 2000: 24). The literal site is a specific location, a topographic space. The functional site, on the other hand, is “a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them. … It is an informational site” (ibid.: 25). One step further, Miwon Kwon traces the “unhinging of site specificity” whereby site is transformed “from a physical location … to a discursive vector—ungrounded, fluid, virtual” (Kwon, 2002: 29-30). According to Kwon, “it is not a matter of choosing sides … between space and place” (2002:166), and the task of site-oriented art is one of “demarcating the relational specificity … addressing the differences of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalences via one thing after another” (ibid.). For Kwon, site is a relational place, where “local encounters [can be turned] into long-term commitments” (ibid.). This is a topological view with a relational sensibility useful for eco-aesthetics. Location is uprooted into an ecology of meetings that produce space.
As a virtual extension or opponent of location stands ‘network’, a word which is often used to describe ecology. Physicist and ecologist Fritjof Capra explains a paradigm shift that ecological science brings in these terms:
Nature is seen as an interconnected, dynamic web of relationships … This web of relationships is described in terms of a corresponding network of concepts and models, none of which is any more fundamental than others. (Capra, in Merchant, 2008: 369).
If ecology is thus assumed to be a network ontology, Capra implies that an ecological epistemology must be correspondingly that of a network. The emergence of systems science has very important affinities with network paradigm, and both are close to ecological science. On the other hand, network also stands for technical infrastructures or organisational structures (Latour, 2005a: 139), or a physical organisation of space, a labyrinth (Eco, in Larsen, 2014: 30-1). Network is commonly represented in terms of tubes, wires, corridors, etc. Network as ontological and epistemological paradigm is often claimed to trouble or supersede modern thinking. However, before assuming that network is an alternative to mechanistic and dualistic thought, I wish to dwell on this for a while.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Ministry of Defense developed a packet switching information technology under the code name of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). In 1969, ARPANET, the forefather of the Internet, went online. According to Stephen J. Lukasik, then involved with the project:
The goal was to exploit new computer technologies to meet the needs of military command and control against nuclear threats, achieve survivable control of US nuclear forces, and improve military tactical and management decision making. Although not central to the decision to pursue networking, it was recognized that these capabilities were common to nondefense needs. [my emphasis] (Lukasik, 2011: 4)
Command and control, management and decision making are expressions closely related to the first-order cybernetics vocabulary. The development of the internet shares common lineage with cybernetics, both scientifically (information science) but also ideologically (control, management)3. Innovations in information architecture soon spilled into business organisation, and by the 1990s, Manuel Castells describes the ‘network society’ as modelled according to the information architecture, constituted of layers of ‘circuits of electronic exchanges’, ‘nodes and hubs’ (global cities, Export Processing Zones, ports, etc.), and “spatial organisation of the dominant, managerial elites” (Castells, 1996). For Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello, the main feature of ‘the new spirit of capitalism’ is its ‘connexionism’ or ‘networkedness’ (2005).
Alexander Galloway outlines three types of network organisation: centralised, decentralised, and distributed (2004). “Centralised networks are hierarchical. They operate with a single authoritative hub” (ibid.:30). An example of a centralised network may be Hobbes’s Leviathan, a state with a sovereign at its head. “In a decentralised network, instead of one hub there are many hubs, each with its own array of dependent nodes.” (ibid.: 31) Galloway claims that “decentralized networks are the most common diagram of the modern era” (ibid.). London Underground, for example, is a decentralised network. Lastly, a distributed network is a network with “no central hubs and no radial nodes. Instead each entity in the distributed network is an autonomous agent” (ibid.: 33). Galloway cites the internet as a distributed network, and compares its different spatiality and freedom to the figure of ‘rhizome’, as theorised by Deleuze and Guattari.
Transposing a biological phenomenon of rhizome as an underground web of roots, DG use this term to oppose modernist models of knowledge based on a tree. The first principle of a rhizome is that of “connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (DG, 1987: 7). The second principle, that of multiplicity, discards the idea of network as a structure, a rhizome “is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion” (ibid.: 21) A rhizome is an event, a performance. This type of network does not circulate information, but connects heterogeneous bodies through conjunctions44. “There are no points or positions in a rhizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines.” (ibid.:8) Rhizome is a network in motion.
Information networks of the day are based on protocols (TCP/IP) that exchange packets of information among nodes with specific address (identity). Differently from a rhizome, points based on a fixed address are crucial for the internet. Following DG, media theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi levels a critique of connective paradigm of contemporary informational capitalism:
In order for connection to be possible, segments must be linguistically compatible. Connection requires a prior process whereby the elements that need to connect are made compatible. (2012: 123)
In Berardi’s terms, connection indicates “the functional interoperability of organisms previously reduced to compatible linguistic units” (ibid.). Hence, packets or units must be homogeneous in order to be swapped, which recalls the monetary principle. The key point is that information networks establish a fixed topography of both nodes (addresses) and edges (connections), allowing selective degrees of circulation within pre-determined parameters. Following Berardi, contemporary technological networks are not open-ended rhizomes.
Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is a branch of science and technology studies developed from mid-1980s to analyse modes in which scientific and economic networks operate. The operative term ‘network’ in these theorisations indicates a number of ‘translations’ that through different practices are established between different objects (actors)5. Latour indicates that network is “the quality of a text”, “a tool to help describe something, not what is being described” (2006:131)5. In other words, it is net-work, a performance of tracing connections among actors. For ANT, ‘the social’ is not a ready-made collection of humans and things, it is continuously made and remade through a net-work of actors’ performances. John Law details that a network “is an accomplishment, a form of work, of effort, of great effort, in a place, with materials that are obdurate” (1999).
Actor-networks and rhizomes move the understanding of network as a material infrastructure or as an invisible web that holds organisms together, to a specific mode of tracing connections among heterogeneous bodies. It is crucial to make a distinction between at least three different meanings of network: as a model (network diagram), an ontology (ecology, information), and a performative methodology that traces relations among bodies. There are important points of departure between the three, and, if not qualified, there is a high risk of confusing a model for the world, a methodology for reality. “The map is not the territory”, said Alfred Korzybski in 1931. However, in the modern outset, they are not independent of each other, which has important consequences for ecological thought and art.
Mapping as a mode of representation is a key interface for the creation of (social) ideas about the environment, and for the production of modern environment itself. The rise of modern cartography is inextricably linked with the affirmation of modern landscape and the modern State (Farinelli, 2003; 2009; Pickles, 2004). Furthermore, mapping as epistemology becomes a generalised representational model subtending the implementation of information technologies through quantification of space, time, and other environmental variables. In this section I will try to trace the oppressive sides of cartography and mapping, as well as decolonising and counter-hegemonic practices.
Mapping as a mathematical procedure is “a correspondence of two sets which to each element of one set assigns a counterpart in the other” (Fauconnier, in Farinelli, 2003: 78). Mapping (and navigating space with a map) is about ‘establishing correspondences’. Beyond a visual interface, mapping is essentially a translation or a turning of the world into a ‘space of representation’ (Lefebvre, 1991). Cartography relies on an understanding of space as Euclid imagined it, i.e. as continuous, homogeneous and contiguous, and it perpetuates it in a flat plane. Mapping, broadly speaking, enacts a presumption that something can be translated into a discrete set of values. What happens in this procedure is that a gap is created between what is mapped and the map (or the mapper). In cartography, the looker is elevated into a God’s perspective, a ‘view from nowhere’ (Haraway, 1991). While looking for correspondence, mapping creates a distance, a discontinuity or heterogeneity between the two sets. Cartography and mapping can thus be understood as a modern interface that re-enacts ontological dualism between man and environment. I am other than the mapped via the map. This modern settlement of cartography was re-examined through arts and theory in the second half of the 20th century.
In the 1950s the avant-garde formation Situationist International opened a new line of cartographic inquiry with their discipline of ‘psychogeography’. Situationists did not use maps to objectively describe the subject’s surroundings, but to understand the impact of the environment (and the representation of the environment) on an individual. Kevin Lynch formalised a similar approach in ‘mental mapping’, a research method for understanding how subjects create their ‘image of the city’ (1960). Conceptual artists have since the 1960s, employed maps both as objectifying truth-generating instruments (e.g., in works of Land Artists, to locate and document the sites of remote intervention) and to trace a subject’s path through landscape or cityscape6. In these subjective tracings, maps become vehicles of what Michel de Certeau called ‘spatial practices’ (1984), documents of traversing and living the city, activities that contest or obey the dominant forces (which officially map the space). From the 1980s on, the field of critical cartography, in a similar fashion to cultural geography’s deconstruction of landscape, examined how “maps make reality as much as they represent it” (Crampton & Krygier, 2006: 15). These subjective cartographies disclosed that maps are not as distant from the territory as Korzybski presupposed.
Further entanglement between map, territory and experience happened both through technological advancements and critical practices. Since Geographical Positioning System (GPS) technology became available for civilian use in 2000, a range of artistic practices have sought to subvert the dominant representations by creating cartographies that are categorised as ‘subversive’ (Crampton & Kryger, 2006: 17), ‘alternative’ (Abrams & Hall, 2006), ‘subjective’, ‘emotional’ (Nold, 2009), ‘radical’ (Bhagat & Mogel, 2008), ‘tactical’ and others (Dodge, Kitchin & Perkins, 2009; Wood, 2010; Pignatti, 2011). With digital maps, there is profound shift in perception:
the advent of maps that tell you where you are on them represents a profound epistemic break from the entire history of cartography to date … our conceptions of lived, bodily space and the simultaneity and capacity of time are almost casually transformed by our everyday use of networked artefacts. (Greenfield, 2012)
However, even if mapping became widely accessible and individualised, the question remains, is the gap between representation and lived experience effaced? Who benefits from the knowledge accumulated? Even when we are using digital maps, we “dwell in a permanent out-of-body experience, displaced from our own locations, seeing ourselves as moving dots or pins on a map” (Varnelis & Meisterlin, 2008). Through digital mapping, space is experienced more closely as a map, but a separation still exists, as everyone trying to use GPS sooner or later finds out.
Beyond cartography, I would like to focus now on the generalisation of mapping through ‘pervasive’, ‘ambient’ or ‘ubiquitous computing’, or the Internet of Things (IoT). In the IoT, objects become intelligent and they “‘feel’ and ‘react’ to the environment independently” (Murer, 2010) through the use of sensors which translate/map certain variables into data, that can then be used to make smart objects perform certain actions. Similar to smart artefacts, the human body has become a terrain for practices of mapping that involve sensing various physiological processes, the practices of the ‘quantified self’7. Ultimately, the goal is to engineer a utopian ‘smart city’, a design in which city as topography and its data mapping converge to create interactive feedback loops of call-and-responses between technological artefacts and humans (Greenfield & Shepard, 2007; Nold & van Kranenburg, 2011; Greenfield, 2013). But before accepting that this is a smooth process, I will look into the possible divergences between territory and mapping through the concept of network.
The question of mapping a network was posed by Jacob L. Moreno, who in 1934 developed the technique of ‘sociometry’ to display relations within a social group (Caldarelli & Catanzaro, 2012: 10). This extension of mapping with graph theory came to be known as a ‘network diagram’. The basic components of a network diagram are nodes (subjects) and edges (lines which connect them). A good example of a network graph is the map of the London Underground, in which topographical distances are sacrificed for a topological connectivity. The development of network science, and its applications, demanded a new form of visual literacy, which can be broadly called ‘visualisation’ of networks (Abrams & Hall, 2006; Lima, 2011). For all its visual efficiency, the network diagram, however, has significant limitations, which are of special relevance in ecological context. Galloway and Thacker identify three main problems with the application of graph theory to the representation of networks: 1) the question of agency (nodes are transformed into objects); 2) ‘diachronic blindness’, “it is an approach that focuses on fixed ‘snapshot’ modelling … a fundamentally synchronic approach”; and 3) “internal complexity and topological incompatibility. … networks always contain several coexistent, and sometimes incompatible, topologies” (2007: 33-4). In a volume dedicated to “cartographies of networks”, J.J. King concludes that “when looked from above, the network is illegible” [original emphasis] (King, in Abrams and Hall, 2006: 49). The question of agency and topological heterogeneity are of interest for a posthumanist ecological approach which is grounded in difference among bodies (see Part II).
The key problem with mapping from ecological perspective has to do with the ontology of representation. As long as a map or graph is understood as separate from reality it represents, the relationship is that of correspondence. The geographical school of NRT observes that there is an incompatibility between ecologies of human and nonhuman agencies, and modern modes of representation (cartography, network graphs, etc.). To understand how they interact, representations are taken to be “performative in themselves; as doings”:
Representations thus do not have a message; rather they are transformers, not causes or outcomes of action but actions themselves. Not examples, but exemplary. In this sense representation is perhaps more usefully thought of as incessant presentation, continually assembling and disassembling, timing and spacing; worlding. (Dewsbury et al., 2002: 438)
According to NRT, there is no discontinuity between representation and agencies of the world. Similarly, Tim Ingold traces a distinction between map-making (representation) and mapping (as performativity). For Ingold, map-making refers to inscribing signs on a map, while mapping is a performative gesture, an “inscriptive practice” (ibid.: 231). When we move towards the idea of mapping as a mode of inscribing or ‘tracing’ (with ANT), mapping becomes a mode of positioning or situating oneself with regard to other entities in the environment. Going beyond inscription, for Deleuze and Guattari mapping “fosters connections between fields” within a network (1987: 12). However, in modern outlooks, representation and reality are distinct, which allows maps to exert power-over the bodies mapped. Map―mapped is another hierarchical dualism, which, when used by the powers to be, gives privilege to the map and mapper. It is then that representations are “not examples, but exemplary”. Mapping as performance is instead an immanent practice that connects dots.
This power nexus between mapper and map has been a critical focus of various practitioners who worked with network visualisation methods to disclose the oft hidden patterns of power or economic/political organisation8. In media arts, Information Visualisation has critically reworked the postulates of scientific visualisation into more dynamic and affective modes of presentation (e.g., Corby & Baily, Autogena & Portway, Active Ingredient)9. Participatory and community mapping projects use different modes of data gathering involving local communities10. Adjacent and overlapping with these approaches is the area of environmental and ‘citizen sensing’, practices that use digital media but also bodies as sensors to gather data that may be used to intervene in urban or environmental policy (Jeniffer Gabrys, Christian Nold, etc.)11. These alternative mappings and information visualisations question the modern gap between representation and the world. In community mapping, for example, the participants use analogue or digital tools and physically move through space. Performativity is emphasised by the fact that the work of mapping is open-ended, never fully accomplished as the network being mapped keeps on changing. For example, mapping urban orchards means tracking the trees week after week as they ripen, often followed by group fruit-picking actions. According to Tom Corby, these types of practices of re-presentation create “landscapes of feeling, arenas of action” in which “objective and subjective, informational and aesthetic components” (2008: 467) question the limits of representation. Contrary to scientific visualisation focused on clarity, these images “produce embodied, affective, sensory experiences that elude rational description and measurement” (ibid.). In this sense, performative mappings are in fact meetings with places or nonhuman entities, they themselves start becoming a network of agencies and things.
Even if there is a more intimate inter-relation between representation and the world, can it be said then that the power relation of ‘map or be mapped’ (Paglen, in Bhagat and Mogel, 2009: 45) is dissolved in these affective or performative practices? I wish to stress this question because non-human entities do not produce their own mappings, therefore they will always be on the side of the ‘mapped’. However, in an ecology understood as a ‘mesh’ of life, “there is no definite background and therefore no definite foreground” (Morton, 2010: 28). This is a challenge for any representational practice based on translation of the world into a visual language of plane, points and lines. Representation per se is not wrong, but the way it is practised does produce different material effects on the world. How to account for these effects is one of the questions that informs my practice.
Finally, when Christopher Columbus set out to sail, map in hand, he did not ‘believe’ that he would find a New World. He set out to turn the world into space, a code that could be governed through protocol. For him, and many other moderns that followed, representation comes before the world, it readies matter for appropriation and subjugation. Therefore, it is crucial to see if specific informatisation/datification/networking practices seek to understand a world or to shape it to its own image, and whether or not these two projects can be distinguished at all. When used in a dualistic fashion, mapping is not an interface with the environment, it becomes a protocol of domination. Suffice to say that with mapping oftentimes comes naming12. It matters little if the island is ‘really’ India or America or San Salvador. For moderns, it is what it is said to be, until a more powerful re-mapping/re-naming/re-branding gathers ground. Similarly to the concepts such as nature, mapping/naming as a relation between the mapping subject and the mapped/named is one of the crucial and ubiquitous boundary-making projects that eco-aesthetics needs to attend to. As much as it may sound strange from the present perspective, a more-than-human ecology might wish to think about how a subject can get named/called by what was thought to be an object.
From sites and networks, I will now zoom out to gaze at the globe, not only spatially, but also temporally. What we see is not the calm ‘blue marble’ of early space exploration, but a tumultuous world which has recently been described as the age of Anthropocene. The term was suggested by atmospheric chemist Paul J. Crutzen (2002) to hypothesise that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch—the Age of Man—because human activity is deemed to have created a stratigraphic record in geological strata. Since 2009, the Anthropocene Working Group has been developing a proposal to submit to the International Commission on Stratigraphy in order to formalise the epoch. Without expecting the scientific verdict, the concept has stirred great debate across arts and humanities.
Beyond the stratigraphic discussion, the Anthropocene can be felt as a call to re-imagine the human through biology and geology. It is a call, in other words, to place our industrialized present—a present that consumes time itself—within a temporal frame that is at once evolutionary and geologic. (Davis & Turpin, 2015: 6)
Put in these terms, the Anthropocene looks like a promising interface for thinking beyond the nature―culture binary. I will dedicate this section to understanding the leverage of this concept for a posthumanist ecology.
A lot of debate is currently centred around when the planet would have entered the Age of Man. Most proposals date the beginning of the Anthropocene to some phase in capitalist or technological development, either the invention of agriculture, Columbian Exchange, the Watt steam engine, or the nuclear bomb13. The concept on the one hand implies a realisation of anthropogenic mastery over the Earth, but also signals a possible end of (human) history amidst climate change and the Sixth Extinction. The Anthropocene is thus closely related to the ‘Great Acceleration’ in the use of resources and related ‘forcings’ on the Earth system (Steffen et al.: 2015)14. Indeed, Crutzen and his colleagues see the concept as a wake-up call to humanity. However, an aura of narcissistic Prometheanism and inevitability accompanies the term16. Eileen Crist points out that the discourse of the major proponents of the Anthropocene is marked by a sense of teleological determinism, “the inability to change historical course” (ibid.: 138)15. The Anthropocene is making the present into history. Namely, the Anthropocene Working Group is looking at what they call ‘technofossils’, man-produced artefacts, to stratigraphically index the epoch.
Through their attempt at naming and measuring the epoch of man, studying cities and subways as fossils in real time, and conjuring future geologists from outer space to study a world in which this civilization has completely vanished, these geologists have called our entire civilization and its requisite way of life a ruin. (Dyer & Wakefield, 2014)
This is no news for environmentalists, it is merely what ecologists have been repeating in different ways at least since Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in 1854. Because it now attempts to scientifically estimate the depth of the human imprint upon Earth, the Anthropocene discourse causes interesting ripple effects between humanities, hard science and public discourse.
It is more revealing to look at what the concept conceals. Going back to the very special understanding of ‘human’ as a historically determined concept, who is this anthropos, the geological mover? Dipesh Chakrabarty looks for the perpetrator:
One could object, for instance, that all the anthropogenic factors contributing to global warming—the burning of fossil fuel, industrialization of animal stock, the clearing of tropical and other forests, and so on—are after all part of a larger story: the unfolding of capitalism in the West and the imperial or quasi-imperial domination by the West of the rest of the world. … If this is broadly true, then does not the talk of species or mankind simply serve to hide the reality of capitalist production and the logic of imperial—formal, informal, or machinic in a Deleuzian sense— domination that it fosters? Why should one include the poor of the world—whose carbon footprint is small anyway— by use of such all-inclusive terms as species or mankind when the blame for the current crisis should be squarely laid at the door of the rich nations in the first place and of the richer classes in the poorer ones? (2009: 216)
The mainstream Anthropocene discourse is another instance of environmental racism, this time by Western science (see note 57). Beyond race and ethnicity, mainstream Anthropocene glosses over the gender disparity in vulnerability to climate change, a key problem extensively explored by, for example, ecological feminists (e.g., see Cuomo & Tuana, 2014). On these grounds, Kate Raworth provocatively suggested an alternative naming, Manthropocene (2014)16. The internal differences under the umbrella term anthropos are a crucial question of environmental justice, because the North still does not want to accept a major share in climate change mitigation. To emphasise the speciesism and other dualisms the Anthropocene incorporates, a number of alternative namings have been proposed: Anthrobscene (Parikka, 2014), Capitalocene (Malm & Hornborg, 2014), Chthlucene (Haraway, 2015), Eurocene or Technocene (Sloterdijk, in Davis & Turpin, 2015: 328), #misanthropocene, Plantatiocene (in Haraway, 2015: 162-3). These scholars, together with Chakrabarty, refuse to forget the impact of capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and modernity. Chakrabarty, and Latour (2015), demand that this situation of crisis, embodied in climate change above all, calls for new patterns of thought that would see beyond the history of capitalism (Chakrabarty, 2009: 221)17. It seems that the Anthropocene is not really setting them out. While recognising important work that is performed around the concept, I find it more important to hold in sight the inequalities of gender, class, race and ethnicity.
To destabilise the dominant narrative of Anthropocene, a creative approach is a quest for ‘posthumanist’ or ‘alter-Anthropocene imaginaries’ (Neimanis, Åsberg & Hayes, 2015). McKenzie Wark sees the Anthropocene as a call to humanities to trouble the established disciplinary divisions:
Rather than ‘interrogate’ Crutzen’s Anthropocene … perhaps it is better to see it as what it is: a brilliant hack. The Anthropocene introduces the labour point of view – in the broadest possible sense – into geology. Perhaps the challenge is then to find analogous but different ways to hack other specialised domains of knowledge, to orient themselves to the situation and the tasks at hand. (2015: 216)
One of the critical responses has been the ‘geologic turn’ in cultural studies and visual arts (e.g., Yusoff, 2013; Cohen, 2015; Parikka, 2015)18. ‘Deep time’, a term introduced by geologist James Hutton in 1700s to indicate geological time, is now widely used in arts and humanities (Yusoff, 2013; Parikka, 2015)19. With a focus on climate change, Neimanis and Loewen Walker have introduced the notion of ‘thick time’ which highlights “transcorporeal stretching between present, future, and past” (2014). The fact that the contested epoch originates from geology, a science that is closely implicated with patterns of extraction (and, thus colonisation and imperialism), is remarkable. However, there is a lot of work to be done to decolonise the concept itself, and especially to decolonise the institutions it stems from20.
In the context of art, the Anthropocene has galvanised a number of artists and curators (Davis & Turpin, 2015). The headliner of the discourse was the Anthropocene Project (2013―15), a two-year research platform bringing together scientists of various stripes and artists and scholars at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin (Klingan et al.: 2015). The Anthropocene Project was an innovative platform whose rhizomatic expansion directly and indirectly spawned numerous art projects, three exhibitions at HKW, and other initiatives across the continent21. A follow-up research project Technosphere, following the term proposed by P. K. Haff, began in spring 2016 at HKW. Numerous other exhibitions, symposia and research initiatives use the concept as a catalyst, an extraordinary response that attests to its imaginary efficacy22.
In the arts, the Anthropocene can perhaps be a boundary concept indicating the sunset of an aesthetic epoch. Irmgard Emmelhainz claims that the age of the Anthropocene has been marked by the transformation of the world into pictures, however “images of the Anthropocene are missing. Thus, it is necessary to transcend our incapacity to imagine an alternative or something better.” (2015). We do not know how to represent or experience the Anthropocene, since the representing subject is what is being represented. The observer and the observed merge or collapse in a self-portrait extending through geological time. Aesthetics, a modern discipline of the sensing subject and the sensed thus in a certain sense comes to an end. This might be a good thing, if we contemplate the depth of complicity of aesthetics with modern dualistic ontology.
As a critical concept, I do not see how the Anthropocene can be conducive to more-than-human justice. Why I am sceptical towards this epochal advent is synthesised in the words of Karl Marx:
It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which requires explanation, or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence… (in Foster, 2000: 159)
The Anthropocene seems to perform the task of unifying culture and nature under the patronage of humanity and, with this move, it conceals too many rifts, shallow and deep. Importantly, it unifies humanity under a single banner of culpability. In the current socio-political context, species thinking can hardly be liberatory. Posthumanism, if it is not to be a refashioned humanism, needs to be a local discourse, attentive to differences, something that the Anthropocene is not. For this and other reasons cited above, I will leave the anthropocene aside in my research, attentive to the conversations around it, but focusing on alter-Anthropocene narratives. The merit I do ascribe to the concept is that it has provoked artists and social theorists to dedicate more attention to the Earth, however it is not the first in that lineage23.
The recent Assessment Report of the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documents a multiplicity of ‘anthropogenic forcing’ factors that, with different degrees of likelihood, contribute to the processes of atmospheric temperature change, ocean temperatures, sea level rise, oceanic salinity, ice sheets and glaciers melting, extreme climate events, sea level pressure, and others (IPCC, 2013: 869-71):
From this combined evidence it is virtually certain that human influence has warmed the global climate system. (ibid.: 871)
In the probabilistic language of the report, ‘virtually certain’ amounts to 99-100% probability, the highest on the ‘uncertainty’ scale used by IPCC (2010: 3). Climate change or global warming is strongly correlated with the anthropocene, but of quite different weight because of its accumulated evidence and the political procedures set in motion around it24. Global warming is a front of (in)decision for global governments, as well as for the growing climate justice movement. In direct response to global warming, environmentally-minded art has evolved rapidly since the first show specifically centred on the topic, Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, curated by Lucy R. Lippard at the Boulder Musem of Contemporary Art in Colorado in 2007.
As this short survey will reveal, art institutions have become unique grounds for art concerned with global warming, either through institutional or counter-institutional practices. Tue Greenfort, in what Luke Skrebowski called “ecological institutional critique” (2013), reveals imbrications of artistic institutions within ecologies and intervenes in their organisation, if only for the duration of the show. Greenfort’s work Exceeding 2°C (2007) at Sharjah Biennial 8 at U.A.E., raised the temperature of the air-cooling system of the museum by 2 degrees. The money saved on the electricity bill was used to purchase a patch of rainforest in Ecuador25. Amy Balkin works in a transversal field between law, politics, finance and environment. Among other projects, Public Smog (2004―) is an ongoing series of works that consist in creating “parks in the atmosphere” by purchasing carbon emission stocks and ‘retiring’ them, thus ‘liberating’ the atmosphere from further emissions:
PUBLIC SMOG is a park in the atmosphere that fluctuates in location and scale. The park is constructed through financial, legal, or political activities that open it for public use. (Balkin, 2006)
In parallel to the real withdrawal of emissions, Balkin conceptualises this into a site, a public space, a status that atmosphere does not hold in the current socio-political settlement. Since 2004, Balkin has been collecting signatures to demand UNESCO to include the atmosphere in the World Heritage Sites list. With a similar transversal and expanded temporal ethos, in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, Mel Chin launched a complex project Operation Paydirt (2006―), a multi-layered artist/activist initiative to remediate the lead poisoning in the soil of New Orleans.
Artistic, industrial and policy-making institutional forums are territories in which artivist26 practices try to divert discussions towards topics of environmental justice. What is of interest here is the choice and diversity of sites of intervention. Adbusters use internet and publishing networks to perform ‘culture jamming’, i.e. renegade advertisements27; the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination uses various institutional contexts, commissions and public space for artivist interventions28; SUPERFLEX work with local communities to create alternative economical solutions29; and Yes Men perform ‘identity corrections’ of companies through uninvited interventions at corporate conferences and gatherings, and through online strategies30. Liberate Tate is an artivist organisation whose goal is to demand from the Tate museums to cease their sponsorship agreement with British Petroleum31. Not An Alternative, artivist and theory collective, performs ‘institutional corrections with their initiative The Natural History Museum (2014 – ), a travelling display that corrects the usual natural history museum narrative that neglects the human influence on ecosystems32. While Liberate Tate peform imromptu occupations of the museum, Not An Alternative insinuate them from within. Art institutions are understood to possess special symbolic value, strategic places from which to induce wider socio-cultural impact.
To some extent continuing the trajectories of Occupy movements and the Climate Camp actions, formats of assembly and camp have become a method of trans-disciplinary ecological inquiry. Case Pyhäjoki – Artistic reflections on nuclear influence (2013) was a ten-day expedition organised by artist Mari Keski-Korsu in a village in northern Finland where works on a new nuclear power plant were commencing. A group of about 20 artists and researchers, through a number of workshops and events, tried to engage with the community to critically reflect on the project. From a connected constellation of people, organised by Brett Bloom, Breakdown Break Down (2015) is an ‘embodied learning’ camp collaboratively developing skills that will be necessary to decolonise ‘petro-subjectivity’ or “de-industrialise our sense of self” (Bloom, 2015). This is in tune with Guattari’s call to untangle the modalities of the production of subjectivity away from those inherent in Integrated World Capitalism (2000). Mobile or nomadic gatherings should be added to this list of activities. Hayley Newman’s Milton Keynes Horizontal Vertical (2006) was a 39-hour group bus trip through the modernist grid of Milton Keynes until the fuel ran out. Road trips, public tours, or explorations of obscure or hidden sites of industrial or techno-military sites is a common thread connecting diverse groups and projects such as Center for Land Use and Interpretation33, Dark Ecology34, Temporal School of Experimental Geography35, etc. Some are more research-oriented while others are more practice-based in the spirit of Trevor Paglen’s ‘experimental geography’ (2009). To various degrees, these initiatives share an interest in geography and the modes of production of space, attending and ‘witnessing’ the invisibilised sites of global economic and political power networks, and the connected environmental degradation and pollution.
Climate change as discourse springs from climate science, correspondingly arts and science collaborations and interactions are one of the privileged working methodologies. With a focus on the UK context, some important platforms are Arts Catalyst36, Culture and Climate Change37, Cape Farewell38, Finnish Bioartsociety39 and its Hybrid Matters ‘field laboratory’40, Invisible Dust41, and the River School42. Joint fieldwork or labwork is central to these initiatives. The sites visited are strongly charged geopolitical knots or ecosystems that are sensitive to climate change. Despite a variety of ethico-political agendas, what these projects and initiatives share are alternative disciplinary associations, and modalities of production of transversal knowledge and modes of art-making.
A site of privilege where humanity purports to meet and respond to global warming are the United Nations Conferences of Parties (COP), held annually since 1995 in different cities across the globe. Arts have gradually played an ever more important role through both invited commissions and uninvited or grassroots artivist interventions. The connections between art and the Climate Change Conferences merits a study on its own. However, briefly, it can be said that if Copenhagen represented a ‘coming of age’ of climate-change-minded art, the recent COP21 meeting in Paris (2015) was ‘the tipping point’ for the climate movement and for environmentally engaged art (Drabble, 2016). Interventions ranged from high-profile pieces by art stars, to a constellation of one-off shows around town, as well as a ‘conference of creative parties’. Following Beth Carruters’s injunction, Barnaby Drabble concludes that “culture (not science) is the field in which tools for dealing with the current ecological crisis might be fashioned” (ibid.). Drabble however admonishes that there are vast differences between institutional, private and state-funded initiatives, as well as independent and grassroots practices, “differences that must provoke discussion” (ibid.).
One of the key parables of recent eco-oriented art from my perspective is a necessity to create transversal networks of sites and bodies, that seek to move outside the logic of the hegemonic protocols of decision-making and power. If the ‘spatial turn’ in arts in the 1990s was ignited by patterns of urban development (Deutsche, 1998), the space of intervention has now expanded from urban centres to ‘frontier’ or remote locations. As an illustration, Basia Irland’s Ice Receding/Books Reseeding (2008 ―) engages communities along rivers to create ice books filled with seeds that are then launched into the water thus seeding downstream. This work embodies the situated/dispersed nature of the environmental crisis, and a need for distributed local associations and alliances. Site, instead of losing significance in the context of presumably unlocalisable global warming, instead re-emerges as a space of confrontation, protest, research and artistic practice.
By way of conclusion, early notions of environment as a unitary homogeneous container have, especially in the context of global warming, materialised into a geography of difference, where the impacts of networks of capital and violence, as well as of climate change processes, are differentially felt. There is no relation of exteriority between the site and the global, only an irreducible heterogeneity of situated embodied ‘fragilities’ (Connolly, 2013). This differential situatedness of environmental injustice demands an embedded and embodied eco-oriented art practice. Eco-oriented art has a lot to learn from the struggles for climate justice, the ways they occupy spaces and times, and the transversalities they establish between various sites and platforms.
- As in the title of the founding book of the discipline, authored by Norbert Wiener, cybernetics was the study of “control and communication in the animal and the machine” (1948). Cybernetics can be said to be a forebear of modern-day management theory. This cross-over from systems theory to cybernetic management and politics is best illustrated in the life and work of Stafford Beer (Pickering, 2010: 256-61).
- The key economic tension, individuated by Karl Marx, between city and countryside is more relevant than ever in postmodern space. Popular discourse has in recent years been flooded by the ‘age of cities’ ideologies, and the statistics revealing that the majority of global population lives in cities.
- As the more recent developments have shown, for example, ‘internet freedom’ and ‘free/opensource’ movements, information technologies need not be based on military principle. “Information wants to be free”, the slogan of technology activists, in my view better represents the essence of information technology.
- Deleuze and Guattari oppose “arborescent multiplicities” as “extensive, divisible, and molar; unifiable, totalisable, organisable”, to the logic of “rhizomatic multiplicities”, that are “libidinal, unconscious, molecular, intensive multiplicities composed of particles that do not divide without changing in nature” (1987: 33). The distinction between molar and molecular is key to DG’s ontology. Molar stands for form and organisation, while molecular stands for free, non-functional, immanent composition of bodies.
- One of the key contributions of ANT to ecological thought is undoubtedly the fact that it is one of the first social theories or methodologies that formulated any object as potentially an actor. Any nonhuman–animal, plant, inorganic entity–may participate in the formation of networks and to the creation of the social. I will return to the notion of ‘actor’ in Part II.
- For example, Richard Long’s or On Kawara’s performative walks. Tehching Hsieh documented his One Year Performance 1981-82 (Outdoor Piece) via meticulous tracing of his daily wanderings throughout one year which he spent living outdoors in New York City.
- ‘Quantified self’ is an umbrella term embraces projects coming from fields of new media, design and visual arts, as well as consumer industry, which ‘track’ the functions of the body over time. An important early example that sits at the nexus of cartography and self-quantification is Christian Nold’s BioMapping (2005 -). In the many iterations of the project across different cities, Nold invites participants to perform casual strolls through a neighbourhood carrying a galvanic skin response device which measures the levels of sweating at fingertips, which is then taken to be a measure of the wearer’s stress level. Based on this data, Nold assembles “bio” cartographies of neighbourhoods, giving insight into how people emotionally react to the built environment. In a more detailed and personal manner, Nicholas Felton in Feltron Annual Reports (2005-2012) measures/documents his own life by compounding GPS data with a variety of quantitative and qualitative information about his daily activities, ranging from social encounters to his sleeping patterns. Significantly, many of these elements have been taken over and used commercially. ‘Self-quantification’ has become a new hype for health and fitness purposes. There is a number of apps, and dedicated tracking devices that measure jogging performance, soundness of sleep, diet, etc. These developments may be read from various perspectives, as a final step towards voluntary self-control or as a move towards techno-subjectivities, as well as various positions in-between.
- In visual arts, an early precursor was Mark Lombardi who, in the 1990s, made Narrative Structures, drawings of political and economic conspiracies and abuses by using the visual technique of network graphs. Bureau d’Etudes today produces cartographies of “contemporary political, social and economic systems”, with the intent of “[r]evealing what normally remains invisible and contextualising apparently separate elements within a bigger whole, these visualizations of interests and cooperations re-symbolize the unseen and hidden” (Bureau d’Etudes). Burak Arikan makes cartographies of social networks in educational, political and art-world networks. Jane Tsong’s the los angeles water cycle: the way it is, not the way it should and one day will be draws the paths of water in L.A. “from toilet to tap” (in Bhagat and Mogel, 2009: 101). There is a plenitude of other examples that go beyond the limits of this thesis.
- Tom Corby and Gavin Baily’s practice visualises complex environmental data in form of live-feeds with aim of conveying “the ecological complexity … as pattern and felt experience rather than quantity and measure”, an aesthetics of “systemness” (Corby, 2011). Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway’s Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium (2001/04) depicts a night sky in which the centres of brightness are stock exchange companies. The cosmography is further populated by evolutionary creatures that feed on the stars, creating an ecology of artificial life and capital. A Conversation between Trees (2011) by Active Ingredient brings together environmental data gathered via makeshift sensors installed on trees in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham and Mata Atlantica in Brazil.
- These projects often deal with ecological concerns or problems relating to urban environment: road damage (mySociety and Young Foundation’s Fix My Street (2007-ongoing)); the quality of cycling lanes (Abraham Polsky’s USE/LESS Schema (2010)); urban orchards (The London Orchard Project (2009-ongoing) and Not Far From the Tree (2008-ongoing)); street trees (TreeKit (2011- ongoing)); the appearances of birds (British Trust for Ornithology’s BirdTrack) and bees (Friends of the Earth Trust’s The Great British Bee Count (2014)).
- This is a vibrant emerging field. One of the leading research projects is Citizen Sense (2013-), led by Jennifer Gabrys at Goldsmiths. One of the early practitioners in this area is Christian Nold with his Bio Mapping (2004-) projects, in which participants, wearing sensors, measured physiological responses to the experience of traversing urban environment. In Eric Paulos’s Participatory Urbanism (2007), a group of taxi drivers in Accra, Ghana, has been invited to install carbon monoxide sensors on their cabs in order to gather data about levels of air pollution in the city.
- David Abram (1996) argues that evolution of writing from pictographic, where there was a degree of resemblance between the sign and the referent, to phonetic, as an abstract code of arbitrary denomination, contributed to the perceptual and sensual cutting off of humanity from the landscape. A similar line of thought could be applied to the general field of semiotics. However, with Abram, language, especially orality, still participates in larger ecologies is means to access the more-than-human.
- According to paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman, the beginning of the epoch matches with the expansion of agriculture some 8,000 years ago, and the impact it subsequently created in terms of deforestation, patterns of settlement, etc. (Turpin & Davis, 2015: 5). Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin claim that the Anthropocene begins in 1610, the date of the Columbian Exchange, or the largest movement of population in Holocene, as well as the first round of globalisation in terms of trade (2015). Crutzen himself aligns the start with the invention of Watt’s steam engine in 1776, which also causes an uninterrupted rise in the CO2 which continues to the present day (Crutzen, 2002: 23). Lastly, the stratigraphic mark of the Anthropocene might be localised “in the irradiated soil that is immediately apparent in the sedimentary records following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at the test sites on appropriated Indigenous territories” (Davis & Turpin, 2015: 5). According to the recent report Anthropocene Working Group presented to the International Geological Congress, majority of experts in the group voted for the beginning of the ‘nuclear age’ (1950) as the beginning of the new age (Angus, 2016).
- The ‘Great Acceleration’ is associated with a series of graphs published by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), published in 2004, representing the ”post-1950 acceleration of the human imprint on the Earth System” (Steffen et al., 2015: 82). According to the authors of the paper, the graphs are ”an iconic symbol of the Anthropocene” (ibid.).
- As an illustration, one of the key figures in the promulgation of the thesis, geologist Jan Zalasiewicz, claims that “[w]e are so adept at using energy and manipulating the environment, that we are now a defining force in the geological process on the surface of the Earth” (in Crist, 2013: 132).
- Raworth points out that in the Anthropocene working group, in the initial line-up there was only 1 woman out of 29 scientists. In the expanded group, 5 out of 36 scientists were women. This is not only a characteristic of the scientific treatment of the Anthropocene. At the Sonic Acts festival at Amsterdam dedicated to Geologic Imagination (and closely related Anthropocene), in the packed programme of day 1, including various thinkers, philosophers, media and sound artists, there was only one “female agent” (Jones, 2015). It should be noted that large majority of prominent authors that brought the Anthropocene into the spotlight are white men. For all its outspoken progressiveness, there is a danger of once again putting Man as a central agent of history.
- Of course, Chakrabarty’s argument is well known in environmental justice movement since at least the Rio Summit in 1992 (e.g., Nixon, 2011).
- In the UK context, I would like to single out the research project Rock/Body: Performative interfaces between the geologic and the body, convened by João Florencio and Nigel Clark of the University of Exeter. While sharing interest in geology, the project instead focused on “concrete bodies in order to problematise such universalising conception of humanity” (Florencio & Clark, 2016).
- In the arts context, of interest is exhibition Imagining Deep Time (2014), curated by J. D. Talasek, at National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
- This position is inspired by Decolonising the Anthropocene workshop, organised by the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, 27 November 2015. The variety of positions and post-colonial perspectives of the speakers, in particular of Olivia Rutazimbwa, and the discussion that ensued between the speaker, discussants and the audience, were a true eye-opener in a period when the Anthropocene seemed to be a default narrative in which to situate my work.
- One of the sequels was a research exhibition Anthropocene Observatory, curated by Territorial Agency, Armin Linke, and Anselm Franke at BAC, Utrecht (2015).
- A selection of recent exhibitions that explicitly reference the Anthropocene: Surface Earth, Röda Sten Konsthall, Göteborg, 2016; The Forces Behind Forms, Museums Haus Lange and Haus Esters, Krefeld, 2016; CHANGING CIRCUMSTANCES: Looking at the Future of the Planet, FotoFest 2016 Biennial, Houston; Exo-Evolution, ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2015-6; Placing the Golden Spike: Landscapes of the Anthropocene, INOVA, Milwaukee, 2015; The Great Acceleration, Taipei Biennial 2014, 2014-5; The Whole Earth, KHW, Berlin, 2013, etc. The list is growing by the day.
- In philosophical context, it must be noted that Deleuze and Guattari have already performed this work with their ‘geophilosophy’ (1987, 1994).
- Regarding the term, I follow Timothy Morton’s incitement to insist on ‘global warming’ instead of ‘climate change’, since the latter implies a certain linearity and conceals the extent of disruption (2013). Moreover, I believe it is beneficial to maintain the globe in the concept, because this is a truly globalising shift, in part caused but very different from economic globalisation. Lastly, globe is an unsolvable puzzle for mapping projects of modernity (Farinelli, 2003, 2009). No visual protocol of projection has been able to represent the planet without one or another kind of distortion.
- In the second instalment of the work at EACC in Spain, Greenfort worked with the host institution to lower the heating by two degrees in the winter period, and to acquire another patch of greenforest with the money saved.
- Artivism as merger of ‘activism’ and ‘art’ is a commonly accepted term both in popular discourse and academia.
- Adbusters have for decades staged advertisement and branding stunts, as well as publishing a magazine on art and politics. Theirs is a long commitment to the issues of environmental and social justice. Among others, a meme they launched is considered to be one of the sparks that led to Occupy Wall Street in 2012 (McKee, 2016: 82).
- The artivist ‘affinity of friends’, facilitated by John Jordan and Isabelle Frémeaux, Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination (Lab of ii) has been staging important climate justice actions. At the fringes of UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in 2009, Lab of ii organised a Bike Bloc, an act of civil disobedience by using over two hundred ‘Double Double Troubles’, machines welded from discarded bicycles. At the recent COP21 summit at Paris, Lab of ii launched ‘Climate Games’, a mobile app that helped participants engage in civil disobedience aimed at disrupting the workings of the ‘Mesh’, “austerity-dictating politicians, fossil fuel corporations, industry lobbyists, peddlers of false solutions and greenwashers” (Climate Games, 2015).
- Among numerous art-ivist projects of SUPERFLEX, e.g. at the margins of the UN Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the group organised a group hypnosis sessions, Experience climate change as a…, which aimed to induce participants into perceiving global warming from the perspective of different animals either already extinct or at risk of extinction. Otherwise, SUPERFLEX often work with local communities to find empowering solutions to very real everyday problems.
- Yes Men have intervened in various public forums (e.g., at GO-EXPO, Canada’s largest oil conference), camouflaged as corporate representatives, but bringing in admonishing news of the impact on the planet.
- Contrary to the more traditional ‘importation’ of ‘nature’ into the museum as artwork, Liberate Tate used a tactics of bringing into the institution undesired objects such as oil (puddles) or a blade of a wind generator. In March 2016, BP ended its 26-years long sponsorship of the Tate. Both BP and Tate denied that this decision was in any way influenced by the actions of Liberate Tate. It is to be mentioned that Liberate Tate is part of a wider national network Art Not Oil, whose aim is to free cultural sector from fossil fuel industry funding.
- Not An Alternative is a collective that emerged in 2004, and has had prominent part in Occupy Wall Street, as well as in subsequent Occupy Homes, with their banners and signage as well as “symbolic and tactical infrastructure” (in McKee, 2016). In one of the displays of their ‘corrected’ Natural History Museum, they ask: “Will the story of the 6th Mass Extinction ever include the role of its sponsors?”
- The Center for Land Use and Interpretation (CLUI), founded in 1994 at Los Angeles, is “a research and education organisation interested in nature and extent of human interaction with the surface of the earth”.
- Dark Ecology was a three-year research project (2014-6) set up by Hilde Methi, the curator of Sonic Arts festival in Amsterdam. Dark Ecology consisted in group field visits and commissions in the Barents region between Norway and Russia, one of the emerging resource frontiers.
- Temporal School of Experimental Geography (TSOEG) is a network of artists and researchers gathered around joint interests in landscape and fieldwork. Although the network is not set up to explicitly tackle environmental issues, many projects are of eco-oriented character.
- Arts Catalyst are one of the forerunners in the UK of art, science and technology commissioning. Operating for more than 20 years, they facilitate the production of projects that push the boundaries of respective disciplines in terms of complexity, research and topics.
- Culture and Climate Change has facilitated a number of events and publications engaging artists and climate scientists. A recent initiative is Climate Change in Residence: Future Scenarios (2016-7), a cross-institutional artist-in-residency programme involving a number of research centres across the UK. The platform offers modalities to artists a mode to engage with climate science on a systematic and deeper level.
- Cape Farewell is a high-profile research project launched by artist David Buckland in 2001, bringing together artists and scientists to respond to climate change. Among numerous activities, since 2003, Cape Farewell organised “eight expeditions to the Arctic, two to the Scottish Islands, and one to Peruvian Andes”, “physically sailing to the heart of the debate”.
- Finnish Bioartsociety is an arts and science network, with focus on biosciences, biotechnologies and bioethics. It was set up in Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in the northern part of the country. One of the key initiatives is Ars Bioarctica Residency at the station.
- ybrid Matters is a biannual ‘field laboratory’ working on art & science and bioart nexus in sub-Arctic region of Finland and Norway, initiative set up by Finnish Bioartsociety. A group of artists and scientists spends one week together at the University of Helsinki Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, the outcomes of the process are artworks, publications and exhibitions.
- Invisible Dust is a not for profit organisation and artist network, based in London, commissioning artworks in at the crossroads of arts, technology and science, and organising exhibitions and events. Its mission statement is to explicitly tackle issues around the environment and global warming.
- Set up by the Translocal Institute at Budapest, the River School (2013-5) invited artists, scientists, environmental philosophers and other concerned parties to investigate ecologies of Danube River.