A Scattered World View: Anthropogenic Visions Developed by Participants’ Assignments

November 23rd, 2014

A series of case studies on anthropogenic landscapes

The task for participants was to select one meaningful example of an Anthropogenic Landscape, a case study from their personal research background, and to link it conceptually to the anthropocenic themes at stake in the Lichtenberg case study. The feedback was surprising: a rich variety of disquieting, aesthetic, accurate descriptions of unstable landscapes, relocated communities, and scattered visions of Nature, sketching an overall network of ideal relations to the Lichtenberg case in metaphorical, historical, chemical, cultural, and political ways.

The dislocated ants at the center of the Andrew Yang case study represent a powerful metaphor with which to start: a shuttle from the micro to the macro dimensionality, from the small and local to the extended and global. The ants introduce the crucial theme of change in scale in both time and space, performing invisible, tough, effective strategies of adaptation.

Zooming in and slowing down to intercept the elusive rhythms of Nature, we are introduced by Ally Bisshop to the sound of a Mecklenburg human-made fir forest, which silently turned wild as the German Democratic Republic was disappearing. And pushing this slow approach to the limit, we reach the stillness of the representation of Nature set up in the Biological Museum in Stockholm, described by Anna Svensson. Anna speaks of detachment, of the material and emotional separation between the human and the natural, between the taxidermied fauna and the observers who contemplate it. The indisputable disjunction tacitly exhibited in the diorama becomes tangible evidence of radioactivity’s long-term effects described by Jeremy Bolen: risk of contamination intentionally ignored and radioactive debris guiltily spread for decades over an urban area now claim back visibility. The immanent duration of radioactive waste allows a scale-shift in the accounting of time, from the human to the geologic, forbidding the persistence in the separation between human-made causes and unintended effects, a causal disjunction that lies at the basis of most anthropocenic disasters.

Waste becomes invisible but is actually just deeply buried, accurately screened, technically processed, and aesthetically transformed until it is re-naturalized in the paramount New York landfill Yesenia Thibault-Picazo describes as an engineered kind of Nature depicted as cured environment. Self-curing environments also appear above horizons dense with coal dust in the case studies described by Maialen Galarraga and Eric Paglia. The opencast coalmine-turned leisure village in the Basque Country, with its fishing lakes, where once there were caves and tunnels, is no less disquieting than the Global Climate Observatory, set up in Ny-Ålesund on the remains of another coalmine; here, the insular small icy site is now contended by the emerging superpowers in search of a strategic location from where to observe and control the major thermal changes occurring to Arctic tides.

The landfill, the opencast mine, the Arctic observatory—these are all actors of a collective narration that tries to become accountable for the long-term transformations of the planet, in an attempt to trigger a virtuous circle of subtracting-and-restoring that eventually can reproduce a landscape, superposed with an anthropic concept of the Natural.

In the work by Annegret Schmidt, we follow the migration of the South Vietnamese community on its way from the Mekong Delta to the swamplands of Eastern New Orleans, following the massive drainage intervention of the latter in the 1970s. The present landscape profile uncovers Vietnamese as well as French colonial legacies, in the small-scale agricultural styles and in the religious landmarks, insisting on a landscape highly engineered with water-management systems. In this dense scenario, we come across a flow of the Vietnamese diaspora different from the community that settled in Berlin-Lichtenberg at the same time, being guest workers of the GDR, selected from among the northern communist elites: Vietnam is sort of “recomposed” through these anthropogenic landscape visions.

Then there is the exemplar case of resilience and co-development between social- and eco-system in the Chao Phraya Delta in Bangkok: Benjamin Casper describes the co-evolution of the community and its water-related activities, and water-dependent adaptation that has historically produced a deep socio-environmental knowledge intertwined with cultural, religious, and economic implications. The levees are changing, the waterways disappearing; the anthropic transformations of hydrologic equilibrium modify water cultures. No form of knowledge is devoid of dynamics anyway, so the co-evolution of this hydro-geo-eco-social system will continue to be a paradigmatic example.