Anon. - An Intervention in the Anthropocene
A BADaward(2017)*1 winning project by GUO Cheng(artist)*2 in collaboration with Dr. Heather A. Leslie (senior researcher at Department of Environment and Health, VU)*3
We humans construct the image of our ancestors through investigating the artifacts from the past: tools, crafts, ruins, etc. From the perspective of future human beings, what we call ‘now’ is their ‘past’, and the artifacts we create now – from artificial islands to synthetic chemical compounds – will be their archeological records of us. The artifacts of our times are not only made of natural materials, we also have synthetic molecules – the modern alchemy. These contemporary artifacts are made of polymers, alloys, nanoparticles, and artificial chemical compounds. Many of them are barely degradable in nature and far outlast those who once manufactured them.
However, only a tiny proportion of these pre-archeological records are archived as we planned – in crypts, anoxic tombs, collectors’ showrooms and museums. For the rest, millions of tons of unwanted artifacts are not intentionally preserved, which makes them a more objective and realistic archive. These artifacts are exposed to natural weathering and degradation which transforms them into techno-fragments, flowing through the air, drifting in the water, depositing in soils, leaving not even the remotest of locations untouched by the unintended consequences of Anthropocene. For instance, microplastic has been found in the stomachs of deep-sea fish living in North Pacific, in Arctic ice, in Amsterdam canals but also in food and drinks from the supermarket. These fragments can be regarded as newly invented ‘hyperobjects’ (Timothy Morton, 2010), and ‘transit’ between raw, telluric matter and a finished, human object (Roland Barthes, 1970). However the ‘transit’, or the techno-nutrients suspended between the earthly and marketable objects can become a record of anonymous individual existence buried in the Earth. A the same time, these long-lasting geological markers are also part of a non-anthropocentric narrative conveying that the archive is generated not by solely human activities but is a collaborative, synergistic result of all entities, factors, energy and substances on the Earth.
*1 The BIO ART & DESIGN AWARD(BADaward) is a product of collaboration between NWO (Dutch Research Council – Earth and Life Sciences, Humanities, The Hague), ZonMW (Medical Research Council, The Hague), MU Artspace (Eindhoven) and BioArt Laboratories (Eindhoven).
For more info:
*2 GUO Cheng: http://www.guo-cheng.net
*3 Dr. Heather A. Leslie: http://www.falw.vu.nl/en/research/environment-and-health/staff/heather-l...
The project “Anon.” (short for anonymous) is an artistic intervention in geological history which aims to investigate the entanglements of culture, technology and nature. With help of scientific methodologies, field and laboratory techniques, the project plans to extract and erase human fine traces (such as artifacts, microplastic fragments, industrial chemicals and other types of homo-matters that are generated by human activities) within a one square meter area of reclaimed land (one of the significant features of Dutch geology). By extracting the traces of human activity in soil, the question of how to define ‘human traces’ is raised. Devoid of its ‘artificial’ elements, the remediated soil will be put back into its original location and become an archeological puzzle for future intelligent beings – while we are left in this age of the Anthropocene with questions surrounding the essence of human activities and the relation between the ‘hyperobjects’ and the world.
Anon. focuses on exploring the relationship between human activities and the environment within the context of Anthropocene.
The mid-twentieth century marked the beginning of the new epoch, indexed by the presence of plutonium fallout following atomic tests. Its symptoms include climate change, sea-level rise, the sixth mass extinction of life, the presence of plastic throughout the earth system, altered nitrogen levels due to fertilizer use, the acidification of the oceans, and so on. Setting aside for now all the controversy over its name and dating, the Anthropocene is a geological marker in time of a shift in the earth system.
- Anthropocene Working Group of the International Stratigraphic Society
The general public has a growing interest in the sciences of environmental pollution, toxicology and biology that build knowledge of the Anthropocene’s unintended consequences. This they express through massive Climate Marches and Marches for Science for instance. This project’s theme picks up on this societal concern. What Anon. brings to the fore is the opportunity to explore, through an inquisitive artwork, what the power of this scientific information is. What stories can these high-tech, sensitive analytical devices reveal to us? Science and art have in common that they aim to be authentic, both are observing, investigating, interpreting and expressing. Both aim to tell their own powerful stories, (and therefore we can see how both can be potentially threatening to undemocratic regimes). As we discovered in the project proposal development phase, a great number of thought-provoking discussions are triggered when we start to just think about erasing our human-techno-elemental messages imbedded in the earth we inhabit. The artwork therefore has a great potential of further triggering debate across various disciplines and among those experiencing the exhibit or even visiting the original 1 m2 site. This artwork will ask us to explore and come to our own conclusions about the technological-financial systems we have created and the physical world that we have partly made. How do we feel about the Earth and the manner of dealing with nature in the technoexuberant age we are living in? In addition, as a site specific project that takes place in the Netherlands, the project takes advantage of the intensive land use and the reclamation of the land as critical cultural and historical layers, which gives the project a strong intrinsic connection with the Dutch people. The final locations will be selected and the public programme designed to ensure that the project will benefit from the site and its audiences/followers, and trigger broad public engagement.
3.Realization Plan and Schedule
The project will be divided into 6 steps: a. Location evaluation and selection;
mid July – late July
b. Research on excavation depth and soil collection;
late July – late August
c. Matter extraction and soil remediation;
late July – early September
d. Land renovation;
late August – early September
e. Installation & video production;
early September – late November
Opening on 1st December at MU space(Eindhoven)
4.Final Presentation/ Exhibition
The project will be exhibited from 1 December 2017 onwards at MU, centre for visual culture in Eindhoven.
The project will be presented in two parts:
a.The puzzle for the future will be stationed at the site of remediated soil. The remediated land will become a geological time capsule that intends to contain no message of mankind.
b.The traces of the past: homo-matters that extracted from soil will be exhibited in a gallery include as an installation/sculpture, physical documentation, photography and a short video documentary.
Guo Cheng(b.1988, Beijing) is an artist currently based in Shanghai. He graduated from MA Design Products at Royal College of Art, London, UK. and obtained his BE in industrial design at Tongji University, Shanghai, China. His practice mainly focuses on exploring the interrelation between mainstream/emerging technologies and individuals under the context of social life, culture and ethic. Guo Cheng has been serving as Visiting Lecturer at College of Design and Innovation(Tongji University) since 2013, and worked as Executive Director at Chronus Art Center(Mar. 2015 - Feb.2017). His work is exhibited and screened internationally at STRP Biennial (Eindhoven), Digital Art Center (Taipei), Festival GAMERZ 11(Aix-en- Provence, France), Shenzhen Media Art Festival(Shenzhen), UCCA (Beijing), OCAT (Shanghai and Shenzhen). He won the BADaward in 2017. His work "An Apophanous Overfitting”(a part of the collective project Tulip Pyramid - A Project of Copy and Identity) won Gijs Bakker Awards(2016).
The Scientist and Research Group/ Institute
Dr. Heather A. Leslie (Department of Environment & Health, VU)
The VU’s Department of Environment & Health is dedicated to understanding the impacts of environmental contaminants on human health and the environment worldwide. The systems studied by this unique multidisciplinary group with state-of-the-art analytical chemistry and toxicology laboratory facilities span from the molecular level to populations, ecosystems and society. Dr. Heather Leslie, senior scientist and main contact person for Anon., is an environmental scientist specialised in the industrial chemicals and plastic pollution of the Anthropocene. She leads a group of scientists, technicians and PhD students at the VU studying the distribution and impacts of plastic on ecosystems and human health, and collaborates on this topic with the VU’s Institute for Environmental Studies, the VUmc hospital and colleagues worldwide. Dr. Leslie coordinated the well-known EU CleanSea Project that increased our understanding of the drivers and impacts of our ‘plastic litter footprint’ on the environment, society and wellbeing, and what we can do about it.