7 March 2018

CURATING THE ANTHROPOCENE: FEARSOME OR ROMANTIC?

MUSEUMS ON EARTH

BY: LANA TRAN

The effects of the Industrial Revolution as revealed in sooted specimens.
 Red-headed Woodpeckers from 1901 (top) and 1982 (bottom), The Field Museum.
Photo: Carl Fuldner and Shane DuBay. Source.

The concept of the Anthropocene is a curiously circular thing – an age of human influence, conceived and ruminated by humans themselves. Though the thought that humans effect environmental change has been circulating since the 1800s, in recent years, coining this effect as its own epoch has catalyzed its absorption into the realm of culture. 

From artistic representations to academic conference themes, the Anthropocene is becoming a term for people of varied fields in academia and beyond to circle around. This trend is not lost on museums, where exhibitions—ranging from experimental to permanent—are addressing the topic from a huge array of perspectives. 


Is there a correct (and conversely, incorrect) way to curate the Anthropocene? 


View of Pierre Huyghe’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou, 2013. Source

To me, a would-be palaeontologist at one time, it’s both exciting and concerning when portrayals of the Anthropocene seem to bridge on science fiction: one species deciding a future for themselves and their planet. At times, creative abstractions on these ideas can teeter on romanticizing escapist post-humanism—Denizens of Earth, upload yourself into the cloud, or put in an application to an extraterrestrial colony in case nature ceases to exist. 

In actuality, teasing apart the issues that confound the Anthropocene concept—such as anthropocentrism, capitalism, colonialism…(the list goes on)—is not a task easily accomplished in a series of displays alone. Indeed, the Anthropocene concept is a conspicuous platform from which museums are challenged to communicate with the utmost nuance. 

The Anthropocene poses more questions than it answers—a rousing and intimidating thought! 


Further Reading

Möllers, Nina. 2013. “Cur(at)Ing the Planet—How to Exhibit the Anthropocene and Why.” RCC Perspectives, no. 3: 57–66. Link.

Steffen, Will, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John McNeill. 2011. “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives.” Philosophical Transactions: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 369 (1938): 842–67. Link.

Turpin, Etienne, and Heather Davis. 2015. Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. Open Humanities Press. Link.

Wamberg, Jacob, and Mads Rosendahl Thomsen. 2017. “The Posthuman in the Anthropocene: A Look through the Aesthetic Field.” European Review 25 (1): 150–65. Link

Whyte, Kyle. 2017. “The Roles for Indigenous Peoples in Anthropocene Dialogues: Some Critical Notes and a Question.” Inhabiting the Anthropocene (blog). January 25, 2017. Link

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