OSLO FORM LAB 2018

Joakim Blattmann and Art in the Anthropocene: A Tool for Reimagining Our Presence in the World

Updated: Oct 24, 2018

By Vera Maria Gjermundsen.


Blattmann, Joakim. Treverk (9). Tree, electronics, contact speakers. Variable dimensions. 2018. Photo: www.hostutstillingen.no

On the first floor of Kunstnernes Hus is a tree laying on the ground, in the far right corner of the room. Its branches, somehow cut, somehow left intact, are tangled up in long wires and connected to speakers, giving shape to a hybrid being, with natural and synthetic ramifications spreading out on the gray floor. The being seemingly breaths, producing a frail noise through the speakers directly attached to its skin: it emits the sound of its own life, the sound of its insides drying out, of its branches growing longer and stronger, of insects crawling around on its surface. Such sounds, that normally occur on a wavelength that our human ear is unable to pick up on, are here converted by the artist Joakim Blattmann to an audible format, making us witnesses to the ever-present microsounds and micromovements of nature.


For the first time, we, as members of the public but, first and foremost, as humans, are thus invited into an inaccessible world, a world that our sensorial limits normally deny us entrance to. When observing such a work, it’s difficult not to feel almost physically drawn into this newly revealed dimension, and simultaneously feel our presence in the world grow smaller and smaller by the second.


By actively confronting us with new forms of pulsating natural life, on a scale much wider than what we’re able to observe on our day to day basis, «Treverk» physically forces us to be reevaluate our presence in the world, shedding light upon our inherent human limits, as well as our both conscious and unconscious blindness towards large parts of the outside nature. Making us aware of how nature incessantly and dynamically exists around us, beneath us and above us, artworks such as «Treverk» contribute to counteract the cold arrogance and self-declared superiority towards all other lifeforms that make up the psychological core behind our capitalist, profit based age of the Anthropocene (that thinkers such as Donna Haraway would for this reason find much more appropriate to rename Capitalocene) [1].


In our present age of fuel extraction, drastic deforestation, resource exploitation, mass extinction, ocean acidification, soil degradation and sea ice melting,[2] one could say that it’s art’s responsibility to provide vital tools to “re-imagine futures beyond the cynical recklessness of the myopic capitalist horizon” [3]. It is in fact to be considered one of art’s main responsibilities to suggest alternatives, to raise awareness and denounce our self-imposed role as top leaders of the global hierarchy, a role that does nothing but fuel our aggressive impact upon the world’s micro and macroclimates and legitimize the ever-lasting exploitation of everything we’ve placed beneath us.


In order for art to effectively do so, there is a need for the raw reality of climate change to be reshaped. The cold data brought to light by climate scientists in the form of large-scale graphs, and all-embracing diagrams with constantly ascending arrows of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, needs in fact to be brought down to a human scale. By turning it into audible and tangible expressions, similarly to how Blattmann changes the wavelength of nature’s sounds, art thus fulfills one of its vital roles, channeling the message through forms that can resonate with our immediate emotions and thus activate strong psychological responses [4].


As one of the 110 works that make up this year Autumn Exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus, this is exactly what Joakim Blattmann’s «Treverk» sets out to do. Blattmann’s approach is in fact both subtle and poetic, as he builds up a hypnotic landscape of forbidden sounds, engulfing the spectators into a newborn reality of floating emotions and delicate echoes. By operating on such a scale, Blattmann gives life to a whole new perspective. As we fluctuate between the trees’ imperceptible movements, we find ourselves moved further and further away from the detached outlook of the Capitalocene, observing how nature instead unfolds in front of our eyes (or ears, one should say) as a “vibrant”, complex living entity. Recognizing its status as intensely alive, the world becomes a captivating universe, where every branch is worthy of our attention and respect, miles away from the lifeless, passive and ever-lasting exploitable resource we so often turn to in our geological era [5].

As we leave the artwork, it’s as if our presence in the world has in fact slightly shifted, and when, on our walk home, we find ourselves carefully listening to the wind blowing in the trees, we tend to do so with a hint of newfound modesty.


Notes

[1] Haraway, «Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chtulucene», 259.

[2] Ibid.; Davies and Turpin, Art in the Anthropocene, 10.

[3] Davies and Turpin, «Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction», 10.

[4] Vetlesen, «Agenda Arts and Crafts: Art and Climate».

[5] Bennet, Vibrant matter, IX.


References


Bennet, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. London: Duke University Press,

2010.


Davies, Heather and Etienne Turpin. «Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment &

the Sixth Extinction». In Art in the Anthropocene, edited by Heather Davies and Etienne Turpin, 003-031. London: Open Humanities Press, 2015.


Haraway, Donna. «Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chtulucene». In Art in the Anthropocene,

edited by Heather Davies and Etienne Turpin, 255-270. London: Open Humanities Press, 2015.


Vetlesen, Arne Johan. «Agenda Arts and Crafts: Art and Climate». Lecture, Kunstnernes Hus,

Oslo, 07.09.2017.