An(other) Emergency Call
After the End of the World, an exhibition curated by José Luis de Vicente, questions the climate change that our uncontrollably consumed planet is going through. Hulya Ertas writes about the exhibition, which she defines as both a celebration and requiem for planet Earth
“It's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”1 This is the name of the first chapter of Mark Fisher’s influential book Capitalist Realism. The immersive nature of the existing social order has resulted in barrenness of imagination and thus passivity of action for change. So, the exhibition in the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona) skips the question of what will happen after the end of capitalism, and jumps directly: After the End of the World. As it seems very clear to anyone with some sort of common sense we have consumed out our planet. We have polluted its rivers and seas, dug out its mountains for coal or gold, poisoned its land with all sorts of chemicals. The end of the world is near, brought to you by yourself. And everyone ones it.2 With this ironic title the exhibition questions mainly how Anthropocene is effecting our planet and that climate change is not coming, it is already here, bringing with it social, financial and humanitarian crises. After the End of the World is at the same time a celebration of our lovely planet and a requiem for it. It gives the feeling of ruin lust for a lost space where you deeply know is not lost yet totally.
The narrative of the exhibition is woven along eight installations and “waiting rooms” that connect those. The waiting rooms function as headquarters of the Ministry of the Future, a collective artistic project aiming to convince governments about the reality of global warming and affects of Anthropocene. And Timothy Morton3 is appointed as the first minister of the future, appearing in those headquarters through videos. Some harsh reality, in numbers and in a historical context are provided in these areas as if Morton is lobbying for the Earth in a holistic perspective including humans and non-humans alike.
The exhibition starts with a huge screen with visions of Earth and reading of a text by Kim Stanley Robinson, the author of Mars trilogy.4 Robinson invites us to a mind journey: “Think yourself as a planet.” Telling us we are “the trees in the forest” and “jellyfish in the ocean” and proposing us to empathise with the world we are living in, to imagine our afterlife, Robinson reminds us our future and the planet’s at the same time, are in our very own hands. This jellyfish mentioned at the very beginning of the exhibition salutes us later on, in the experience-based installation of Rimini Protokol, Win > < Win.5 Here the jellyfish is the epitome winner in global warming, not effected by the water pollution and even benefiting from the warming of the seas. This creature that has not changed for at least 670 million years and probably will not for another hundreds of million years. You enter a room with chairs looking ahead to a circular mirror. With headphones first you interact with the people in the room looking at the same mirror as you. And this mirror transforms into a water tank filled with jellyfish while you listen to their scientific victory and then gets more transparent as you start seeing other people sitting behind the tank looking at you. You, people in your room, the jellyfish tank and people sitting behind the tank are all one, encapsulated in the same existence, part of the same story. You wave goodbyes and leave the room with a satirical smile on your face.
This satirical smile accompanies you actually during the whole visit. The question of “who is going to survive after the end of the world” is a tricky one. But there is another one with an answer that is as clear as the summer sky: “who is bringing the end of the world?” Benjamin Grant’s satellite photos of huge docks, power plants, gated communities, mining areas demonstrate the impact of humans even in very remote places on Earth.6 This visual landscape is terrestrial and extraterrestrial at the same time. One might victoriously take these as the greatness of (hu)man or might feel ashamed of his/her own species exploiting the Earth like there is no tomorrow. And this dichotomy, I think, defines the main tension behind the idea of Anthropocene. Watching Charles Lim’s videos showing how Singapore is terraformed and expanded 30% of its size through pouring sand into the ocean emphasises this tension more.7
In between Grant’s and Lim’s works on exploitation of nature we encounter another type of exploitation, of human exploiting their own species. Unknown Fields Division’s installation comprised of videos, a water element as found in textile dying plants and textiles takes us to India and Bangladesh. Witnessing how such a daily good like clothing is produced and the social mechanisms behind this reminds us how we are surrounded by the capitalist realism.8
And then Superflux provides us another realism, a realism in 2050 in London where you are totally on your own to guarantee your survival. The installation Mitigation of Shock prepares us for a near future where it is no longer possible to produce food through conventional agriculture as an affect of climate change and everyone handles this issue on their own. Red/blue spectrum lights, journal of endless trials for germination and a radio giving the news of the apocalyptic world…9
And in order not to leave the exhibition with a dystopic scenario we come across the work of Tomas Saraceno that investigates the air itself as the main agent for flight.10 Even though Saraceno’s response to the question of how we can work with nature seems like a small one, focusing on energy makes a lot sense. Aerocene reminds us behind solar panels and wind tribunes there is a lot to innovate in the energy sector with forces of nature without exploiting it. Through the exhibition you encounter sections of the documentation (works of Robinson, Grant, Lim) and critique (works of Rimini Protokol, Unknown Fields Division, Superflux). And you know with Saraceno’s work following Natalie Jeremijenko’s Environmental Health Clinic, you are in the solutions section. Environmental Health Clinic is a lab and clinic at New York University, taking care of people’s health through research into their environmental conditions, rather than personal ones. “… you walk out with a prescription not for pharmaceuticals but for actions: local data collection and urban interventions directed at understanding and improving your environmental health…”11
After the End of the World is not giving us scenes of an afterworld, but is one of the attempts that try to persuade authorities to take action against global warming. It is a reminder of the Paris Agreement signed in 2015 and easily forgotten by some countries, totally dismissed by others. Nor futurist neither progressive, After the End of the World proposes a more critical position for arts in today’s world within the institutional borders. And outside of these borders it is a relief to know there are people all around the world mobilised for another future than capitalist realism, like solarpunks, eco-anarchists, advocates of degrowth, etc…
1 Mark Fisher, aka k-punk, defines the operational logic of today’s world as “capitalist realism” and investigates into how control and managerialism logic of capital affects the mental health. Even though he passed away in 2017his influence on contemporary thinkers continues. http://k-punk.org
2 McKenzie Wark salutes us at the very entrance of the exhibition with these two sentences: “This civilization is over. And everybody knows it.” A recent survey on public opinion on climate change also proves this claim. “…62 percent of Americans believe that the effects of global warming are happening now in 2017” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_opinion_on_climate_change
3 Timothy Morton is well known for his theories of dark ecology and hyperobjects. Recently he was criticised heavily for a tweet -that he later on deleted- on Mark Fisher and his own depression. http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/
4 The Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) is about people from world’s colonisation of Mars and setting up a new social order that would not repeat the same mistakes done here on Earth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_trilogy
5 Unfortunately there are no images of Rimini Protokol’s installation in the press file but more information about Win > < Win and their other projects can be found here www.rimini-protokoll.de
6 Founder of Daily Overview Grant defines his work as such: “… the Overviews (what we call these images) focus on the places and moments where human activity—for better or for worse—has shaped the landscape.” www.dailyoverview.com
7 Charles Lim Yi Yong’s work Sea State was also exhibited in 2015 Venice Biennale, here are more info and videos seastate.sg 8 Defining themselves as a “nomadic design research studio” Unknown Fields Division is run by Liam Young and Kate Davies. www.unknownfieldsdivision.com
9 Superflux works at the intersection of technology, society, environment and design. More info can be found here superflux.in
10 For more info on architect Thomas Saraceno’s Aerocene project aerocene.org
11 More info about Environmental Health Clinic can be found here https://www.nyu.edu/projects/xdesign/clinic/