Planetary art beyond the human: Rethinking agency in the Anthropocene

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jats:p A growing number of transdisciplinary art-science projects across the world are taking up the challenge of representing geological and cosmic time and of rendering visible, audible and tangible the powerful forces that shape the planet’s systems. While art historians have often found the earth art movement to exemplify a new awareness of the geological impact of human activity on the planet, I argue that art may engender a more genuinely planetary perspective when it pays attention to those forces we cannot compel. Gesturing towards the limits of human agency with regard to the Earth may ultimately be a more effective way of challenging anthropocentrism, and of locating human history within planetary time. My analysis draws on works by four contemporary artists – Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Canada/Mexico), Claudia Müller (Chile), Paul Rosero Contreras (Ecuador) and Michelle-Marie Letelier (Germany/Chile) – that explore the science of turbulent dynamics that are impervious to human action, such as solar flares, earthquakes, winds, tides, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. As Nigel Clark argues, the fundamental asymmetry that governs our relationship with a volatile planet is often lost in accounts of the entanglement of human and nonhumans that have recently prevailed in the humanities and social sciences. The works I discuss revise the practices of earth art to create a ‘planetary art’, cultivating a sense of the planet beyond the human that allows us to understand its dynamics more fully, and to resituate human agency more properly within geohistories of matter and energy. In many cases, this art remains fully alert to the geopolitics of the Anthropocene, focusing on the increased vulnerability of the Global South to climate change and environmental disaster, and gesturing towards a decolonial critique of the objectification of nature and the dissociative, rationalist knowledge produced by modern science. </jats:p>

Anthropocene, anthropocentrism, art and science, Claudia Muller, earth art, environmental humanities, Michelle-Marie Letelier, Paul Rosero Contreras, planetary art, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
Journal Title
Anthropocene Review
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SAGE Publications
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British Academy (SRG/170379)
British Academy [SRG\170379]