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The Anthropocene—Coming Soon to a Theater (and Museum, and Bookshelf) Near You
By Clara Chaisson
Anthropocene is a clunky word for an even more unwieldy concept. But props to the Merriam-Webster team who have given us a dictionary definition that's easy enough to follow.
Anthropocene: (n.) The period of time during which human activities have had an environmental impact on the earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age.
Try to list those planet-altering human activities, though, and you'll quickly realize that you could go on forever. Even geologists, those who decide if the Anthropocene merits an official geologic epoch, disagree on which specific markers characterize this nebulous yet distinct time. (Plastic pollution, nuclear tests, concrete particles, artificial fertilizers and even domestic chickens are all contenders.) Our impacts on the planet are so vast and multifaceted, there's just no simple way to illustrate their scope.
"Dandora Landfill #3". Plastics Recycling, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
But filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal, photographer Edward Burtynsky and cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier are giving it a try. Wisely, these collaborators don't limit themselves to one approach or even one medium. The Anthropocene Project fuses photography, film, virtual reality, augmented reality and research, resulting in a body of work that attempts to give audiences a panoramic view of the Anthropocene. The project, currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario, takes the form of a traveling exhibit, educational program, book and documentary film.
The three Canadian artists have teamed up before. The documentary portion of the project, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, is the third of a film trilogy that also includes Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH Trailer | TIFF 2018 youtu.be
For their latest endeavor, the trio spent four years traveling to 20 countries across the globe, shooting at potash mines in the Ural Mountains of Russia; lithium ponds in the Atacama Desert; Australia's Great Barrier Reef; the German open-pit coal mine that houses Bagger 288, one of the world's largest machines; and many more of earth's human-altered landscapes and seascapes. Seeking to describe humanity's relationship with the environment rather than prescribe one, the team took an expansive approach to collecting material, shooting some 400 hours of footage to produce their 90-minute film. Their photography ratios tend to be even higher—Burtynsky sorted through an astonishing 26,000 photos to select just 110 for his previous book, Water. (He didn't keep an exact tally for The Anthropocene Project, but you get the idea.)
"Lithium Mines #1". Salt Flats, Atacama Desert, Chile, 2017Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
The scenes Burtynsky captures with his camera reflect a strange and surprising beauty in the world we've created. Potash mines appear as vibrant, psychedelic corridors; lithium mines in the Atacama Desert look like DJ boards for giants; a massive highway through California's Imperial Valley strikes a satisfying note of symmetry.
"Uralkali Potash Mine #4". Berezniki, Russia, 2017.Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
The tension in these images between despoilment and allure makes it hard to look away. Still, the artists are quick to acknowledge that engaging with their subject matter is not always easy. Burtynsky reminds us that these are our industrial landscapes, designed to produce materials that we use every day. "We've created them, but we turn our backs to them," he says.
Yet taking a long, hard look in the mirror doesn't have to lead to despair. Even after everything Baichwal has seen in her travels to some of the most polluted sites in the world, she describes herself as an optimist. "In every one of these places that we were, there were these little hints of hope," she said. "We had the ingenuity to do all of this; we can also use that to change . . . We just have to summon the collective will, and the will of our governments, and the will of our corporations, and the will of individuals."
"Building Ivory Tusk Mound". April 25, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016.Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Howard Greenberg and Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
That's a tall order. But if we're going to address our anthropogenic footprint, it seems only fitting to start by exploring it through the lens of that uniquely human endeavor: art.
The Anthropocene Project is on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto through Jan. 6, 2019, and at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa through February 24, 2019. Having had its world premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is now playing in select Canadian theaters.Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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By Kim Knowlton
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EcoWatch is pleased to announce its second photo contest! Earth Day is happening on April 22nd, and this year's theme is "Protect Our Species." With that in mind, we want EcoWatchers to show us your photographs of creatures that inhabit Earth. Send us your best photos of species you value.
By Julia Conley
In propping up the coal industry, the Trump administration is not only contributing to dangerous pollution, fossil fuel emissions and the climate crisis, it is also now clinging to a far more expensive energy production model than renewable energy offers.
That's according to a new report from renewable energy analysis firm Energy Innovation, showing that about three-quarters of power produced by the nation's remaining coal plants is more expensive for American households than renewables including wind, solar and hydro power.
At least 19 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in flash flooding in the south of Iran, the country's semi-official Tasnim News Agency said. The city of Shiraz in Fars province was the worst hit by the flooding, which occurred after a month's worth of rain fell in a few hours, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
Climate change is having a grizzly effect on Mount Everest as melting snow and glaciers reveal some of the bodies of climbers who died trying to scale the world's highest peak.
The Navajo Nation has decided to stop pursuing the acquisition of a beleaguered coal-fired power plant in Arizona, locking in the plant to be taken offline and its associated coal mine to close later this year.
A Navajo Nation Council committee voted 11-9 last week to stop pursuing the purchase of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station, which with the Kayenta coal mine provides more than 800 jobs to primarily Navajo and Hopi workers as well as tribal royalties.
A coalition of utilities that own the plant said in 2017 it would cease operations due to increased economic pressure, and the plant's future has proved a flash point for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes.
For a deeper dive: