Artists, through sculpture, photography, paintings and installations, have been responding to the idea that we now live in the Anthropocene, an era of man-made changes that has shaped the quality of our environment.
The term Anthropocene has been proposed to name the time we live in. It's the prefix “anthro” what references to humans and this term proposes that the current geological time is primarily defined by the vast impact humans have had on our planet. Labeling a geological age should not be taken lightly—and there has been some controversy over the topic— but given our ongoing impact as a species, it does not seem outlandish to highlight that we, the human race, are now the driving force behind our changing planet.
Human-induced climate change, which some politicians deny and many choose to ignore, threatens the survival of every species on Earth and could eventually lead to widespread coastal land loss, agricultural and economic collapse, food and water shortages, frequent and severe natural disasters, and unprecedented refugee crises. When it comes to the environment, time is running out fast and our response to the threats needs to be quicker than ever.
Artists too have been incorporating the idea of this new phase into their projects. In sculpture, photography, paintings and installations, they’ve been responding to the idea that people, not natural processes, now primarily determine our environment. Indeed, for some time now, many artists have been confronting environmental issues, strengthening the relationship and dialogue between art and science. This union is leading to solutions capable of confronting the slow movement of international political and bureaucratic reactions to the problem, by interpreting changes and formulas in a creative way and visually presenting them to the citizens in order to create awareness.
The Anthropocene exhibition brings together the work of a group of artists of a wide variety of ages working in various mediums to thread a narrative that might account for the kinds of relations and responsibilities we all are entangled in, notes Elisabeth Johs, curator for the exhibition and MA in Contemporary Art at Sotheby's Institute of Art in New York City.
“The disturbing premise is that we are so radically impacting our environment to the point of irreversibility that we may cause a catastrophe. Such a profound statement can almost feel unfathomable to the point of denial. We are left in a state of complex cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability.”
The works of these artists respond to the idea of this powerless feeling about where we stand geologically in this moment and challenge the individual accountability in a collective society where we are all part of a drastic change. The presumption is that collectively we are all world-changers on a path where we have left a record that is now indelible. The artists showcase the different aspects of how the ‘individual’ response of powerlessness within the collective impacts our environment, where facts and notions about individual responsibility have deliberately been blurred. Industrialization, globalization, artificial intelligence, climate change, and the limits of what it means to be human are thus established as causal base factors in these works. The exhibition entices its viewers to enter the dialogue through collective creativity by a mix of visual art, sound, Q&A’s, and performances.
These projects don’t solve an environmental problem but point to potential solutions and raise awareness. In an era of half-truths, full-lies, and intentionally blurred lines, the relationship between art and science is more important than ever. Science provides us with hard evidence, but I believe art can plant the message deep enough, from an emotional perspective, to make it spring into useful actions.
What seems clear to me is that projects like these harness the power of art (including its reliance on metaphors and verbal/visual play, its aversion to received ideas, and its willingness to conquer new areas of knowledge) to convince us to think differently about our relationship with the environment.
I have witnessed firsthand the magic and majesty of the arts themselves and also their transformative power in helping tackle issues by taking creative risks, trying to make connections and leaping across disciplines and cultures in ways previously not attempted, or even imagined.
Arts and culture can challenge and be provocative, informing and opening our minds. At a time of increasing divisiveness and inequality, we need their influence more than ever. Arts and culture delight, educate, stimulate, inspire, and contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and confident society. We must work with artists, scientists, and people from a myriad backgrounds and perspectives to create imaginative, inspiring, engaging projects that address important issues for our time.
It was my great pleasure to be present at the time of the unveiling of the inspiring mural “Agenda 2030” by Mexican artist Manuel Felguérez, which was placed at the United Nations headquarters in New York to commemorate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — adopted by world leaders in September 2015. With these new universal goals, countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.
Mexico has played a leading role in climate action: it was one of the first countries to pass a law on climate change in 2012, and the country is one of the leading nations on sustainable development, having incorporated the Sustainable Development Goals into their national development strategy.
Mexico was also a co-facilitator of Member States’ discussions leading to agreements on the first-ever Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration earlier this year, a day Mexican Ambassador Juan Gómez Camacho, co-facilitator of the negotiations, called "a historic day" after decades of efforts. In this ceremony, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: “Art is essential to all human cultures; it nourishes our spirits, reflects our deepest emotions, challenges us to expand our understanding, transcends differences and reminds us that we are one human family”.
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