Shedding a Sublime Light on the Anthropocene

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

By Besiana Hadri.

The dark room and its tall walls makes it look like a dream world, and in this case it kind of resembles the suspense of a nightmare. A nightmare in its best sense, a fictional world filled with unknown and unexpected elements and information. (Elements and information, which may look far from reality but is actually slowly becoming a bigger part of the nightmare called reality.)

I want to go back to an exhibition held a year ago in Moss, Norway, where the Nordic biennale of contemporary art, held its 9th exhibition called ”Momentum 9: (alienation)”. It was active in 2017 from June 17th until the 11th of October. The main focus of the exhibition was the mysterious word alienation. It explored how various alien processes and entities are being more and more integrated into our modern lives. This is happening through technological, ecological and social transformations and encounters. They argued that the alien constantly surrounds us and that alienation has become part of our contemporary condition. In a world were we seem to have control and ownership of various technology, we are also being flooded with a massive amount of information. The amount is so complex and large that grasping a sense of reality and meaning is more difficult than ever. Through different art forms, themes, methods and disciplines Momentum 9 addressed the confusion and explored alternative tools that can result in a greater understanding of the current human conditions. The three main subjects of the exhibition were: 1) Bodies, Objects and technologies, 2) Ecology, and 3) Structures and societies. (Momentum, 2017)

There are many reasons for wishing to shed light on a previously held exhibition. Although it has already happened it holds great relevance to the subject of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene or ”Human age” is a name that is truly ironic in a sense. The irony lies in the fact that we choose to name an age after ourselves, when we may be better off shifting the attention away from ourselves. An alternative could be Anthro-apology. Maybe one way is to stop looking at the word human as a word that stands alone, and start looking at other words, which can explore humans in other ways? The word alien is a great way to start. In some ways we are showing signs of invasion and decreased cooperation with the planet. The art works in the exhibition explores the alien side both inside humans and outside of humans.

The entrance to Momentum Kunsthall was covered by all the artist names, in a modern and gothic font and it opened as a heavy bookcase, just like one remembers from fiction stories. The old brewery had been transformed into a dystopia, which resembled a sci-fi movie. The experience created by the interior could be compared to the philosophical phenomenon called the sublime. According to Edmund Burke, everything that is capable of producing a sense of fear, such as a nightmare, is a source of the sublime. He argues that fear has a greater impact on the human body then pleasure. (Burke, 1757, s. 34) Maybe that is why the curators used these specific elements and effects? It activated our fear and thereby our consciousness and reflections.

The main room held a massive installation made by the artist duo Trollkrem. Deep Down Below (2017) mainly consisted of huge rocks that occupied the room. By climbing a small set of stairs one could find VR glasses on top of the rocks. Inside the world of the VR glasses one was placed deep down in the ocean. The installations produced questions and problematized our relationship to the ocean, and the unexplored territory it consists of.

As we entered furthermore into the premises of the exhibition a lime green light sources was following us. This lime green color was present throughout the venue. The color could be associated with something that is no longer that alien, a stereotypical lime green and fictional alien figure. In the corner of a room, we were guided through a small passage, lit up by the lime green light on the floor. Further through the passage we entered a completely dark room. Inside the dark room a box was presented, much like an aquarium, consisting of a small forest. Because of the lighting in the box, and the absence of lighting in the room, it seemed as though you were one with the forest. It was as if you were looking out of a window and into the forest, in the middle of nowhere, and not at an exhibition looking at an art object. The artist Jussi Kivi is exploring the concept of solastalgia in the artwork called Moon Woods (2017). Solastalgia is a condition that consists of psychic and existential distress caused by environmental changes. (Pubmed, 2007) Again, we are shifting the attention to our own distress and forgetting the distress of the surrounding environment. By focusing on the impact environmental issues have on our mental state, are we actually forgetting to pay attention to our impact on the environments environmental state?

Outside the exhibition building we met upon a window display. It displayed an outfit, but not what one usually sees in window displays at stores and the connotations seemed far from materialism. Inside it, an astronaut was bowing down. Jone Kvie’s Untitled (Carrier) (2006) astronaut showed some kind of remorse. Was he bowing down to what is bigger then him or was he simply fed up that he hadn’t figured anything out? No matter what the astronaut felt, as a spectator a sense of pity and compassion was produced. Was altruism favorable at this exhibition or is it favorable in the anthropocene in general? Can altruism and its claim that we are morally obliged to benefit other humans have a negative impact too?