The Earth Sciences and Creative Practice: Entering the Anthropocene

The Earth Sciences and Creative Practice: Entering the Anthropocene

Suzette Worden (RMIT University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 31
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8205-4.ch007
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The Anthropocene is being suggested as a new geological age replacing the Holocene and is a description of a time interval where significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activity. Artists interested in the earth sciences are using digital media to provide audiences with ways of understanding the issues highlighted in discussions about the Anthropocene. These artists are harnessing data through visualisation and sonification, facilitating audience participation, and are often working in art-science collaborations. These activities demonstrate a transdisciplinary approach that is necessary for confronting the world's most pressing problems, such as climate change. After a discussion of the opportunities provided by visualisation technologies and an overview of the Anthropocene, this chapter explores the following interrelated themes through examples of creative works: (1) nanoscale, (2) geology and deep time, (3) climate, weather, and the atmosphere, (4) extreme places – beyond wilderness, and (5) curatorial practice as environmental care.
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Earth science embraces many areas such as the study of the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere, the interior of the planet, electromagnetic fields and surface rocks. It also includes interactions between the planet and the inhabiting life forms. An understanding of the systems operating across and within all these interacting forces, materials and life forms is found in the disciplines of environmental science, geography and ecology. The evolution of the planet can be understood through deep time, a concept first developed by the geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) who argued that the earth was formed through volcanic activity and erosion under the sea, with strata being uplifted and then eroded.

The earth sciences draw on other disciplines such as physics, biology and mathematics. There are also sub-disciplines within the broad categories of study. For example, geology includes the sub-disciplines such mineralogy, geochemistry, paleontology and sedimentology. Another way of sub-dividing interests within the area is to recognise the distinctions between studies of rocks (the lithosphere), water (the hydrosphere) air (the atmosphere) and life (the biosphere).

The Anthropocene is being suggested as a new geological age replacing the Holocene. The term, popularised by Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, suggests that humanity has affected nature over the last two hundred years so that a new human-made stratum has emerged in the geological record (Trischler, 2013, p. 5). Their thesis has generated debate across and within many disciplines in the sciences, arts and humanities, and because it brings human influence into sharp focus, especially in relation to climate change. The Anthropocene is therefore not only part of scientific discourse but has social and political implications; areas of concern that have been seen as previously distinct have become entangled. For example, while discussing politics and the Anthropocene Bruno Latour has stressed the need for action, a “politics-with-science” instead of a “politics-vs-science” and also because of the speed at which changes are happening alongside the expanded timespan in which we have to understand action, “another temporal rhythm for action” (Latour, 2013, p. 11). Christoph Kueffer (2013) has helpfully introduced the term “ecological novelty” as a means of describing a suitable methodology necessary for action and conceptualising deep time in conjunction with increasingly rapid change.

In a previous discussion of the earth sciences and creative practice, “The Earth Sciences and Creative Practice: Exploring Boundaries between Digital and Material Culture” (Worden, 2014), I explored creative work in digital media by concentrating on artists’ responses to geology, mineralogy and nanotechnology. Through this discussion it was evident that artists depict the materiality of the world through visual and virtual representations of what is seen, not only through their direct observations but through the use of visualisation technologies, and increasingly in visualisation of matter that can be technically or electronically recorded but is not visible to the human eye. Besides direct observation it is possible for artists to use rich and varied forms of data on conditions in the world including the atmosphere and physical formations, data about particles at the nano level to data on geological formations, extremes of temperature and how these all interact with human activity spatially and temporally. All this information can be combined, visualised and re-purposed in digital media or combined with traditional media in creative works. The creative work discussed in the earlier chapter, by Perdita Phillips, Victoria Vesna and Paul Thomas, provided an opportunity to discuss scale, order, ethical issues and ecology, as well as more tangible aspects of physical spaces, the body and the need to be “embodied perceivers” (Frodeman, 2006, p. 389).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ecomedia: A media form in which computing is a shared practice between science and an art concerned with place and content-based creation.

Anthropocene: A new geological age replacing the Holocene, where nothing in nature makes sense except in the light of human action.

Embodied: A tangible or visible form, particularly the presence of the body as a precondition for thought and social interaction.

Sublime: A term used for art that is extraordinary and often escapes definition. It is often used to describe a response to nature.

Ecology: The scientific study of the interaction between organisms and their environment. It is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses the Earth Sciences, biology and human science, with many practical applications.

Activism: An activity where the intention is to promote social, economic, political and environmental change.

Deep Time: Deep Time is a concept developed by the geologist James Hutton (1726-1797). In this context evolution can only be measured over vast, immeasurable amounts of time where numbers no longer have any meaning.

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