Practising The Anthropocene: Geostudio

A practical hands on workshop combing theory and toolkit methods, GeoStudio lead an afternoon of insight around the Anthropocene as part of the NEO NEO Extreme Past’ public engagement programme.

The afternoon event looked at the recent suggestion that the impact of human activities upon the planet – people are for example responsible for moving about ten times as much rock and earth as tectonic plates, volcanoes and landslides – significantly altering global ecosystems, occasioning a new geological era – the Anthropocene; a proposition that challenges such longstanding dualisms as human and non-human, nature and culture.

GeoStudio a group of staff and post-graduate researchers, theorists and practitioners, within the Department of Arts at Northumbria University. The interests of members include the philosophy, politics and aesthetics of geo-materiality; the geologic /​material turn in contemporary culture; post human nature; the legacies of land art; cross-overs between art and physical geography, the studio /​field as critical axis, matter, subjectivity and desire. Through discussion, short readings and practical activities the workshop invited participants to consider some of the implications of these aspects for critically engaged contemporary arts practices and aesthetic, ethical and imaginative engagement with the phenomenal world.

The workshop comprised a number of elements led by different members of GeoStudio:

Rona Lee is Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria, an artist and convener of GeoStudio. Her current project Modern Nature draws on JG Ballard, National Geographic, ancient rock drawings and satellite imagery to explore landscape’ post Nature. Recent work has addressed the poetics /​politics of the Sea, Oceanographic mapping and the figuring of matter within Geophysical enquiry as mute /​extraneous phenomena. She will use of a deformation box – as developed by Scottish geologist Henry Moubray Cadell to replicate processes of geological faulting – to facilitate discussion of Jane Bennett’s ideas of Vibrant Matter and reflection on the agency of things’.

Alexandra Hughes’ practice operates in the field of expanded photography as explored in her practice-based PhD, Between Object and Image: Photography as a Phenomenon of Physical Encounter at Northumbria University. In her immersive mixed-media installations, Hughes attempts to reverse the visual distance which so often accompanies the representation of landscape creating embodied encounters that privilege experience and imagination. Hughes’ workshop explored the term Material Imagination’ taken from Gaston Bachelard’s (1942) essay, Water and Dreams an Essay on the Imagination of Matter’ using a particular set of ingredients’ to break’ the pictorial landscape.

Laura Harrington works across different media often in multi disciplinary research and collaborative environments, testing the inhuman/​human positions at play in the experience of nature. Her PhD project Upstream Consciousness – re-visualising and rethinking our engagement with distant’ landscapes’, draws on geomorphology to consider the interconnectedness between humans and a lively earth’. For the workshop, Harrington explored ideas taken from Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in Stone – an Ecology of the Inhuman’ (2015) to reflect on our relations with mundane matter. Harrington encouraged participants to attempt the disentangling of the rock from the pig’, taking participants on a collaborative journey involving a rock and the lichen it carries.

Rob Smith asked participants to consider Timothy Morton’s concept of the Mesh’ – the interrelatedness of all living and non-living things – through examination of plankton under a microscope. Plankton is defined by its inability to swim against a current. This entanglement of organism and environment was the catalyst for discourse around the ways in which the microscopic itself might affect the geomorphology of the planet. An artist and PhD candidate at Northumbria Smith’s research Doggerland – Cultural and Physical Waterscapes of the North Sea questions the legacies of Land Art with regards to site, distance, proximity and territorialisation.