Youâ€™ve heard of the Anthropocene: the proposed name for the current geological epoch during which the collective activities of Homo sapiens have irrevocably and unwisely (man!) altered the Earthâ€™s surface, atmosphere, oceans and systems of nutrient recycling.
But have you heard of the Aerocene?
Brainchild of the prolific Argentinian interdisciplinary artist TomÃ¡s Saraceno, Aerocene is the proposed name for a future planetary epoch â€“ post-Anthropocene, post-fossil fuels â€“ during which Wise man turns increasingly to the Air, to the unlimited potential of the Sun, to the borderless highways of the Wind. In this enlightened future era of ecological awareness, Saraceno imagines our species evolving beyond the Anthropocene to achieve sustainable co-habitation of our shared planet, no longer governed by extractive geopolitics.
To date, the Aerocene is perhaps best known for its open-source aerosolar sculptures (some made of reused plastic bags). These emissions-free floating airborne sculptures are filled only with air, lifted only by the sun, and carried only by the wind. Aerosolar sculptures are kept afloat in Earthâ€™s stratosphere by the heat of the sun (during the day) and infrared radiation from the surface of the Earth (at night). No solar panels, no helium, no batteries, no fossil fuels. Just the sun and wind doing their magic.
You can download free open-source do-it-together (DIT) instructions for making your own aerosolar sculptures here.
The Aerocene is also the name of an open-source participatory platform for global artistic and scientific collaboration to mobilize an urgent international and cross-disciplinary response to the Anthropocene. It has quickly evolved into a vibrant planetary movement of artists, meteorologists, engineers, architects, anthropologists, geographers, philosophers, historians, scientists, musicians, explorers, balloonists and several institutes (e.g. CNES, MIT, Londonâ€™s Royal College of Art). An unsigned online manifesto calls for, among other things, â€œbuilding a less anthropocentric relationship with our environmentâ€ and to â€œre/entangle ourselves with the surrounding milieu.â€
While Studio TomÃ¡s Saraceno is located in Berlin, Saraceno â€œlives and works in and beyond the planet Earthâ€. He has been widely exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions including, among others, the Venice Art Biennale (2009), Berlinâ€™s Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum fÃ¼r Gegenwart (2011), New Yorkâ€™s Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012), Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (2015), COP21 (2015), Londonâ€™s Royal College of Art (2016), Zurichâ€™s Haus Konstruktiv (2017), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2017), and Palais de Tokyo in Paris (2018-2019).
By creating positive new narratives, Saraceno and his collaborators around the world challenge conventional thinking about climate change, architecture, the energy transition, mobility. The result is often a palpable sense of awe â€“ a cosmic jam session â€“ that inspires new ways of thinking about our relation to our only home, Earth.
In an interview posted on an MIT website, Saraceno explained his fascination with the Air: â€œWe like to think of ourselves as living on the Earthâ€™s surface, but we are living at the bottom of an ocean of air.â€ In a second interview, he added â€œThere are highways in the sky; the jet stream moves at a speed of 300km per hour.â€ Saracenoâ€™s aerosolar sculptures that glide on wind currents prompt us to â€œspeculate on how mobility shapes the way we live on the earth.â€
The Aeroceneâ€™s focus on nature as an endless source of inspiration is in stark contrast to many contemporary artistic interpretations of the Anthropoceneâ€™s planetary destruction as a fait accompli. For example, a recent major multimedia exhibition in Canada entitled Anthropocene at two simultaneous art museums featured hauntingly beautiful but emotionally numbing images of human-altered landscapes by the award-winning Canadian collaborators Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicolas de Pencier.
While reaction to this ambitious concurrent exhibition was generally positive, several reviewers astutely questioned â€œDo we need (more) images of the Anthropocene, and why?â€ and â€œIt feels frankly preposterous, not to mention criminally self-indulgent, that we are still observing, documenting, recording â€“ still bearing witness, though what we are mostly bearing witness to is our own profound denial. Is another artistic project, no matter how spectacular, really what we need at this stage?â€
Jayne Wilkinson, independent curator and Managing Editor at Canadian Art, concluded her review of Canadaâ€™s recent Anthropocene exhibit with strong words: â€œIt is dangerous to continue to uphold the aesthetics of destruction.â€
An increasing number of scientific and arts/cultural organizations are calling on artists to help â€œchange the narrativeâ€ about climate change and planetary destruction by creating positive stories that offer a compelling vision of a post-carbon world we want to live in. I am personally interested in forward-looking stories that focus on solutions. Stories that invite audiences to ask themselves â€œHow do we get there from here?â€
TomÃ¡s Saraceno shows us how to get there: by daring to imagine, by embracing the impossible.
No more looking backward. No more dystopic discourse. It is time to focus all our creative energy on collectively imagining a post-carbon, post-Anthropocene future of clean abundance and endless opportunity. We can not build that which we cannot imagine.
(Top image: Screenshot from ArtNet website)
This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.
Joan Sullivan is a Canadian renewable energy photographer. Since 2009, Joan has found her artistic voice on the construction sites of utility-scale wind and solar projects. Her goal is to keep our eyes on the prize â€“ a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes. Joan is currently working on a documentary film and book project about Canadaâ€™s energy transition. Her renewable energy photographs have been exhibited in group and solo shows in Canada, the UK and Italy. You can find Joan on Ello, Twitter and Visura.
Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.
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