‘The epoch in which man could believe himself to be in harmony with nature has expired’
‘The events that we will have to face do not lie in the future but in the recent past’
To mark the extension of the gallery and the exhibition A.N.T.H.R.O.P.O.C.E.N.E, Meessen De Clercq is pleased to invite thirty-two artists to take over the entire space.
This wish to bring in a large number of artists reﬂects the vast process of reﬂection covered by this hypothesis which is almost unanimously accepted by the scientiﬁc community.What is it about? The term Anthropocene, introduced for the ﬁrst time in 2000 by chemist and climatologist Paul Crutzen, means that the human species has become a geological force in its own right. Its impact on the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the lithosphere have reached such a scale that the Earth’s metabolism has undergone irremediable changes. The anthropic origin of these changes led Crutzen to propose the term of anthropocence (from the Greek anthropos, human being and kainos, recent). We are leaving one world and entering another.
The artists invited for this group exhibition draw attention to the issue and update ways of thinking and our modes of perception to cope with what is happening.This exhibition is a subject view of an objective state of our planet. The knowledge of the phenomena observed is indisputable; there are multiple scientiﬁc conclusions, endorsed by several disciplines each with their own methodology. It is this massive cross-checking of information which makes the observations indisputable.
The issue is huge, and the exhibition only attempts a partial view but there is a wealth of literature, discussion panels and information sites enable us to understand and deal with what is happening - what has happened.
The visitor ﬁrst encounters Apuntalamiento cognitivo (Cognitive underpinning), a work by Nicolás Lamas which consists of a prop extending between the ceiling and a pile of National Geographic magazines which provide the stability of the whole work.This magazine, which is familiar to the general public, has been conveying a certain vision of our planet for decades: splendid reports showing the beauty of the four corners of the world, natural phenomena, photos of wild animals, etc. The prop is a key element in the ﬁeld of construction. It is what enables Man to raise and build.Therefore, this work symbolically associates, and the tension is palpable, the Earth and human endeavour, and speciﬁcally our technical skills. Nevertheless, the foundation remains inaccessible. By wishing to raise things and himself, will Man not end up being cut off from his natural resources and deep roots? That is the question that Lamas asks while alluding to stratigraphy and layers of sediment analysed by geologists to determine climates from the Earth’s past.
In the left-hand room, a timeline entrance enables the visitor to appreciate the place of humans in relation to the scale of the existence of the planet. Adam Henry has painted a diagram showing, from bottom to top, the appearance of the Earth (about 4 billion years ago) then the appearance of life, ﬁsh, reptiles, mammals and ﬁnally the place of humans (shown in yellow). That place is insigniﬁcant in relation to the overall scale; nevertheless, humans bear the responsibility for unprecedented changes of the Earth in the modern era.
Various pieces refer to this homo sapiens, and we can discover a femur whose end has been painstakingly carved to represent a world globe. With Who carries Atlas?, Fabrice Samyn creates an intimate link between one of the main bones of the skeleton to our star, the intimate and the cosmos, human gesticulations to celestial movements.The photograph of dirty hands by Ignasi Aballí symbolises the impact of the manipulation of our environment and its potential consequences. Anthropos is characterised by the development of his hands and ability to grip, as well as and most importantly by his brain, his capacity to think and be aware; visitors will have the opportunity to see in places spread throughout the building Second Thoughts, twelve sections of Chaim van Luit’s brain reproduced in copper. The artist had his brain scanned to emphasise, on the one hand, the wonderful expansion of human knowledge and know-how, and on the other hand, to illustrate the viral or unhealthy aspect of human beings in wanting to totally conquer their environment. Besides, copper is of considerable economic importance, and mining it has an environmental impact.
With the work Contact, Nicolás Lamas exhibits side by side an ammonite, a fossil at least 65 million years old, and an iPad that rolled off the Apple production line at the beginning of the current decade.The notions of obsolescence, waste, traces left behind, digitization of our environment or even our memory rise to the surface of our consciousness like these fossils found beneath a hiker’s feet.The notion of Anthropocene is obviously connected with the considerable human footprint left behind by humans in the process of extracting fossil fuels. Evariste Richer shows this link in his Planisphere drawn in crude oil. With Plastic Reef, Maarten Vanden Eynde draws our attention to the disappearance of the coral reefs and the growing threat of ‘oceans of plastic’ which move around due to the marine currents.The corals enable us to ‘read’ the planet’s climate archives, just like the marine sediments and the ice caps.
One cannot avoid the question of the relationship between the actions of man and capitalism. One can but conclude that the two are connected. Benoît Maire subtly reminds us of the concept of speculation by inserting a Napoleon gold coin into a handful of eurocents, and Lucy Skaer establishes a parallelism between a geographical wonder (‘limestone’, several million years old) and economic growth by cutting into the shape of a precious stone a lithographic rock which is a reference to the impressive rise of lithography in the 19th century. His other works are photos inserted into plastic casings and hidden under crystals made artiﬁcially in a laboratory in China (12-13-14). The human presence is barely perceptible and is masked by the manipulating technology.
The idea of consumption of plastic, a 20th century invention, opens up the issue of waste. Guillaume Leblon with Sea Brass and Maarten Vanden Eynde with Paleontologic Plastic III tackle this issue, as does Navid Nuur, who made a vase which he glazed using
non-recyclable residues from the incinerator of the city of Amsterdam. Flower Vase can only be shown with fresh ﬂowers; which heightens the tension of the piece.
In the right-hand room, the climate change issue is highlighted. On the occasion of the COP21 conference, the press is emphasising that the disruption of the Earth’s climate is a threat in the long term to the continued existence of the human race all over the planet. The conclusion is that these profound modiﬁcations of the Earth’s systems call for a clear reaction from the politicians. But as Bruno Latour said in his latest book: “At the very time when we should be engaging in politics, all we have available is the pathetic resources of ‘management’ and ‘governance’. Never has a more provincial deﬁnition of humanity been turned into a universal standard of conduct”. That could be the subject of an exhibition in its own right. This room is devoted more to the effects or the recording of the changes observed.
A huge wall is occupied by La Grêle (Hail) by Evariste Richer, an inventory of thousands of photos of hailstones catalogued on Internet and developed as cyanotypes (blueprints), an old technique revealing images with a predominantly blue colour.The disruption of the climate is marked by global warming, melting icebergs and ice caps (drawn by Jorge Méndez Blake inspired by the literature), acid rain (is that what we can see appearing in the paintings by Benoît Maire?), increased acidity of the oceans and more frequent ﬂooding (Ryan Foerster is showing a work that was severely damaged in his studio during Hurricane Sandy in 2012). Another problem is the massive scale of deforestation, touched on in the impressive work by Leon Vranken, who carved his sculpture Volumes in a solid oak beam forming three equivalent volumes which are tending to disappear vertically, whereas Fabrice Samyn reveals, through subtle alternation of gold leaf and calcination, the centre of a burnt wooden plank bearing the mark of its own destruction.
In the new space, the works The World Unmade by Lieven De Boeck or Non-places by Nicolás Lamas concerning the vision of the mutant globe and emphasising the fact that in the 20th century, Man explored all the territories of the globe. His knowledge of the farthest shore, the smallest island is now complete due to technology, but will not necessarily save Man from being submerged beneath the waves, forced to migrate or become extinct. Dreaming of the South is a work by Kelly Schacht which consists of a mirror with partially- removed silvering, which only shows snatches of the phrase “Lost Missions are the new vacations”. Propped up on Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) written at the end of the 15th century by Sebastian Brant lambasting human behaviour, the mirror gives us a partially-damaged reﬂection of ourselves. How will future generations see us? What image will they have of their ancestors responsible for what is known as the ‘Great Acceleration’, which is the process of remarkable intensiﬁcation of man-made impacts on the Earth? The ﬁnite nature of humanity is also considered by José María Sicilia who applied gold teeth (our last remains) onto his painting.
El Instante made of silk and paper which is based on Young’s experiments in physics, turning light into geometric shapes. His research into the concept of the instant has some connection with the idea of ‘vanitas’ and even addresses the idea of the potential extinction of the human race.
Maarten Vanden Eynde with Technofossil questions the archaeology of the future by revealing fossils of mobile phones still in
their gangue mineral. The artist brought back these blocks of unpolished malachite from Congo, which opens up the issue of colonised countries; what was taken and what is left behind (the idea of debris, mining and resources). Malachite is used in the process of making mobile phones but also relates to North-South relations which cannot be left out of the discussion about what is involved in the Anthropocene (here too, another potential subject for an exhibition).
Economic interests and the relationship with an unrestrained neo-liberal society are the heart of the conceptual reﬂection by Filip Gilissen. With The Rocking Guru, he raises the issue of the world of the future. This installation made of golden shelves, fake Greek columns, LED candles and odour diffusers looks at the issue of waste, the aim of commercial companies to promote
something false (odour and vision) to make us forget the reality. The redigestion of materials and shapes, the ruin of the past, the
conception of the era of modernity (the future = progress) are conjured up to challenge modernity and what tomorrow will involve. Now that it has been established that the planet is not exploitable ad inﬁnitum, how can we cope with what awaits us?
Visitors can see this with Connaissance des Arts (Knowledge of the Arts) by Nicolas Lamás or An Endless Present by Milena Bonilla which recomposes dust jackets and back covers of books. Benoît Maire also makes intensive use of shapes of the past and waste; we ﬁnd them in his Double conjonction (Double conjunction), a large mural panel, as well as in his clever association of an oyster shell and a polystyrene case for an Apple computer. In this work, he makes the connection between natural protection (oyster) and industrial protection provi-ded by technology.Waste cannot be mentioned, it is indeﬁnable. Although it can be circumvented in an ingenious manner; with La Fabrique de papier pressé (The Pressed Paper Mill), Benoît Pype has recycled the packaging from his fast-food consumption by turning it into paper. In a way, he is converting his desire for instantaneity into a time-consuming age-old activity. Starting with recycling the packaging of his personal consumption of fast food, the aim is to convert the ‘fast’ into ‘slow’ by making paper from it into paper over the course of a few weeks.
The environmental footprint of intensive livestock farming is also a problem and it is suggested in Cured Cuts by Vanessa Billy. The world is in constant evolution, and matter is undergoing incessant changes, although they may sometimes be slow, between the solid-liquid-gaseous states and vice-versa. Mud is also a transitory element, between liquid and solid. It is the basis of our
soil and embodies the myth of creation (shape emerging from the shapeless). It is a piece with latent energies that Vanessa Billy is
showing: End of Days, piles of ‘dud’ bulbs in suspension, like particles of mud in turbid water.
In his video And then, Adam Henry has assembled tens of Xerox copies of an image of the Earth, photocopied successively to achieve a complete wash-out of the details. This video shows the disappearance of a world which, shown in a loop, also shows the appearance of a world. In various places in the gallery, visitors will discover photos by Aurélien Froment which respond to the themes of each room.
We see two of them in the Wunderkammer, which deal with the notion of disappearance of living species which also characterises the Anthropocene via symbolic photos or fossils of plants, as well as works on paper referring to birdsong (José María Sicilia), and fossils of marine crustaceans (Vanessa Billy). The centrepiece, End Game, by Maarten Vanden Eynde highlights, with a hint of humour, the disappearance of the largest terrestrial mammal, the elephant. At the heart of intense trafﬁcking, an ivory tusk is exhibited here in the same way as in a natural history museum with, on its pointed tip, a chalk used by billiard players.
Several dates have been suggested for the start of the Anthropocene. Some think it was about 1800, at the start of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, but a consensus seems to be emerging that one should adopt the symbolic year of 1945, and more precisely the 16th July when the USA tested its ﬁrst nuclear weapon in the desert of New Mexico.The radioactive fallout of the various nuclear tests left sufﬁcient traces on the surface of the globe for them to be considered as valid markers from a stratigraphic viewpoint. The left-hand room contains various works which deal with atomic power; a glass reproduction of a nuclear test in 1952 using trinitite (sand vitriﬁed by the heat of the explosion) by Benoît Pype, a ghostly ﬁgure by Claudio Parmiggiani which is reminiscent of the human remains visible under the blast of the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, expansive energy and contamination in the drawing by Thu Van Tran, allusion to the gingko biloba, the tree surviving those explosions and the oldest known family of trees, having made its appearance on Earth 270 million years ago. Finally, Kelly Schacht and Susan Collis conjure up some ﬁne pirouettes in time with Minutes for eternity and The Fallen, a painstaking trompe-l’oeil drawing of dust that has fallen onto a shelf.
Dissemination is only one step away from evaporation with the three photos by Katinka Bock which reveal the process of ﬁring ceramics which contained objects that burned during the time in the kiln.The ﬁre destroys, but the ceramics resist.
The right-hand room deals with this idea of resistance and how to face our future (Jordi Colomer). Ryan Gander is showing variants of lamps made for his wife, and we could interpret them as attempts to ﬁnd alternative responses to existing propositions; Wilfredo Prieto has placed a crystal ball on the ﬂoor and entitled it Uncertain Future while Evariste Richer has photographed two quartz stones which seem to form a timeless gaze, conveying an experience of the shamanistic world.
“Learning to honour what we hold dear, that which gives us the strength to think, to imagine, to struggle, means ‘re-describing/reconstructing’ experience in a way that declares that we hold nothing dear without being held dear, without being indebted to that of which we are fond."
The boundaries of knowledge are being redrawn, and this new era lets us glimpse new possibilities. In that respect, the transformation is fascinating.