By Annika Barlinn Kjelstad.
What should the agenda of art be in the Anthropocene? One might argue that it is to impose the urgency of climate change. Climate researcher Øyvind Paasche talked about how climate change has a communicative problem at a climate conference in Oslo. This communicative issue he argues lies at the core of human perception, the tendency to only believe what we see ourselves. There are however visual examples that are used to proclaim this urgency, one example of this is the image from Antarctica of an ice bear who is lost on a melting snowflake. This image clearly indicates the consequences and urgency of climate change. Even though one can argue that this image on its own is powerful, the issue is that this image lack the convincing element of personal experience. Can art communicatively reach through our perception, and go beyond the technological filter that affects the way we today relate to our earth. The question to pose is can art make us realize the actual climatic reality of our earth?
The technology of our time has through history had the ability to alter the way we think about ourselves and relate to our surroundings. Technological innovation has strengthened our belief in the human being and given us reasons to claim an important position in the universe at large (Horn). For example, the invention of the steam engine which produced the railway gave us the ability to travel long distances, in a less time consuming manner. The invention of the railway did not only give travel a more comfortable aspect, but also made us relate to both the world and time in a new way. The way human beings relate to nature through technology can be argued to explain the filter in which we understand our world. In her text “Air Condition: Taming the climate as a Dream of Civilization,” Eva Horn argues that air condition might be perceived as such a filter. She argues that this relatively new technology, gives the radical impression that human beings are able to alter their climate in ways that improve their level of comfort. Horn argues that this development might take us one step away from facing the climate crises. The very fact that the world at large is getting warmer, rather than comfortably cool.
Horn argues that through technological inventions, such as, air-condition, we are able to create almost a utopian climate that radically differs from the natural climate. This she argues is the core of the modern project that simply tries to separate nature and society. Where the natural climate no longer plays a vital part in the human life. According to Bruno Latour this modern project never happened. The reason for this is because the majority of scientific evidence shows an evolution where the climate is going to play a more significant and interrupting part on earth. Latour further goes on to argue that this way of separating the social world and the natural world poses a problem when dealing with the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene here represents the idea that one can base the state of the earth back to human influence. It is a fundamental idea of the Anthropocene that it is through human activity as such, that explains today’s climate. He further goes on to argue that nature, culture and technology in today’s world very much exists in a kind of symbioses. Technology such as air-condition represents a way for human beings to avoid the contemporary state of the earth. Where one can argue that human beings’ relation to nature is constructed. Today it is possible to go through life without being confronted with the status quo of the climate. Horn here brings out the example of travel, where airports around the world has the same standardised temperature. The world is very much in a standardised global climate, as long as you stay inside. As previously pointed out, this modern way of relating to the climate is through being independent from its previous and one might add futuristic, negative aspects.
At a time where facts that emerge from the scientific community is strongly questioned, the value of our own constructed facts seem more important. These facts often emerge from experiences. One might therefore question if the role of the arts today must be to create opportunities for these experiences. Art can exist as a contrast to the escape from reality into comfort which the air-condition technology might represent. Following this argument, art will have to be confrontational and uncomfortable. The role of art will according to Latour be forced to take a political position. A position which reminds us of our climatic reality.
Horn, Eva. “Air-Conditioning: Taming the Climate as a Dream of Civilization,” in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imagination, ed. by James Graham et al. (New York: Lars Müller Publishing, 2016): 233-241.
Latour, Bruno. "Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern." Critical inquiry 30.2 (2004): 225-248.