Planetary imaginations and the anthropocene: tracing Geoaesthetic Acts between 1968-1972
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/11/2022
This dissertation investigates the rise of planetary thinking and geologic imaginaries that are instigated by the Anthropocene in the late 1960s and early 1970s through their reflections in art and architecture. I examine the discursive traces and speculative imaginaries – those that underpin the contemporary Anthropocene - in the planetary aesthetic that gained an impetus with the rise of the “Whole Earth” discourse throughout the period between 1968 and 1972. I aim to reveal a prehistory of emerging Anthropocene aesthetics through offering a critical analysis and comparative reading of Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale (1971), Superstudio’s The Continuous Monument (1969) and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970). I position these works as what I define as geoaesthetic acts: as cultural manifestations that take the Earth as their subject matter and focal point and that I contextualise within the Anthropocene both as a material and discursive framework. I mainly argue that by taking the Earth as a site, scale and aesthetic condition- as architects Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy put it-, these geoaesthetic acts foreground planetary imagination and point towards an Anthropocenic aesthetics. This dissertation responds to the question of which representations of Anthropocenic thinking in art and architecture can play a similar preliminary role as Las Meninas (1656) does in Michel Foucault’s analysis in The Order of Things: An Archeology of Human Sciences (1970). For Foucault, Las Meninas is a painting which testifies to an epistemic rupture between the Classical and Modern and identifies the emergence of the figure of man as an epistemological consciousness upon which the new form of knowledge, the modern episteme will be founded. I map Foucault’s Las Meninas analysis as a conceptual and methodological guide by focusing on the relationship he builds between an epistemic shift and conditions of representation. The Anthropocene implies an epistemological shift that challenges the central positioning of this figure of man in the Modern episteme and points to its dissolution both on conceptual and material terms. In this regard, I argue that La Région Centrale, The Continuous Monument and Spiral Jetty as a representational assemblage plays a similar inaugural role to Las Meninas in terms of identifying an epistemological shift, and foreshadows an Anthropocenic aesthetics by decentering and dissolving the figure of man in relation to planetary and geomorphological forces. In particular, I reveal how these three geoaesthetics acts respond to the expansion of spatiotemporal frames of analysis and collision of Earth and human temporalities posited by the Anthropocene thesis retroactively, through their radical conception of subjectivity, framing of temporality and imagination of scale. Although an emerging Anthropocene aesthetics can be identified -albeit loosely-, a genealogical exploration of the cultural manifestations that take the Earth as a site, scale, and aesthetic condition from an Anthropocenic lens has not yet been undertaken. Through my critical, comparative analysis and close readings of La Région Centrale, Spiral Jetty and The Continuous Monument, I start to trace a lineage of Anthropocenic imaginary by exploring how these geoaesthetic acts established new or rather overlooked aesthetic modes, discursive, affective and sensual strategies through which to interrogate the relationship between the Earth and humans. I explore how they forged radical and inventive ways of conceptualising and representing the Earth as well as engaging with geologic life. By contextualising them within the “Whole Earth'' discourse, I reveal how the period between 1968-1972 was a pivotal time in the history of Anthropocene aesthetics and uncover the impetus that gave rise to planetary aesthetic and geologic imagination in visual culture. I argue that through offering new frames of analysis, the Anthropocene theory allows us to reread these three works with new angles of thought and new layers of meaning and this rereading in turn contributes to Anthropocene studies. Since my research is positioned within Anthropocene studies, my approach is necessarily transdisciplinary, intersecting science, philosophy and aesthetics -which encompass art and architecture- and combines historical, theoretical, archival research methods as well as close readings and visual and architectural analysis. I argue that we can read these works as already engaging with the Anthropocene theory even before the term was invented and thereby foreshadowing an Anthropocenic aesthetics, allowing us to map the origins of the current Anthropocenic cultural-aesthetic context. This rereading provides a deeper understanding of the current distinctive set of historical, cultural, aesthetic, and geopolitical circumstances that is implied by the Anthropocene thesis, an understanding that goes beyond the fables of awakening that appear frequently in Anthropocene discourse. In doing so, this rereading offers critical, productive and creative insights into our contemporary situation in terms of developing an Anthropocenic thought and sensibility, that reconfigures our imagined relations with the planet.