Conference programmed in the context of the exhibition '4.543 billion. The matter of matter', CAPC musée d’art contemporain Bordeaux, 29 June 2017–7 January 2018. Curated by Latitudes. – The work of many of the artists in the exhibition '4.543 billion. The matter of matter' explores the shared history of human activities and Earth systems. Yet this comes with a critical and political inflexion of the universalizing notion of the Anthropocene, the proposed geological ‘epoch of humanity’ that would cast all of the mankind as being responsible for the alarming damage caused by modernizing and capitalizing nature.
With a keynote by science historian Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, and a conversation between artists Xavier Ribas and Ângela Ferreira—the latter both featured in the exhibition—this event hosted by Latitudes ('4.543 billion' curators Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna), sees art practice and historical research intertwining with environmental and geological narratives, and vice versa. Both Ribas and Ferreira make art that resists the generalising story of the Anthropocene that Fressoz unmasks in his book 'The Shock of the Anthropocene. The Earth, History and Us' (co-authored with Christophe Bonneuil, Verso Books, 2016). Echoing the meticulous historical approach of Fressoz, both Ribas’s and Ferreira’s projects in the exhibition deal with case studies with a very specific place and politics. Addressing mineral agency and colonial extraction, the artists will discuss their approaches to work that has sprung from diamonds in South Africa (Ferreira) to nitrate in Chile (Ribas).
As Fressoz & Bonneuil have written, the Anthropocene “signals the return of the Earth into a world that Western industrial modernity, on the whole, represented to itself as above earthly foundation … Environmental history, natural anthropology, environmental law and ethics, human ecology, environmental sociology, political ecology, green political theory, ecological economics, etc., are among the new disciplines that have recently begun to renew the human and social sciences, in a dialogue with the sciences of nature.” The dialogue during the event will seek to discover what might happen when artists, curators, exhibitions and museums come into the mix of such emerging practices. What is at stake when artists venture beyond the conventional separation of humanities from sciences, and into environmental art history, cultural ecology, decolonial activism, and so on?
Entrance to the exhibition at the CAPC. Photo: Latitudes/RK.
GUESTS Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, formerly a lecturer at Imperial College, London, is a historian of science, technology and environment. He is based at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris, the largest governmental research organisation in France and the largest fundamental science agency in Europe. He is the author, with Christophe Bonneuil, of 'The Shock of the Anthropocene' (Verso, 2016). “This bold, brilliantly argued history of the Anthropocene epoch is a corrective to cosy thinking about humanity’s grave disruptions to Earth systems. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz draw on climate science, economics and technological history to reveal how, starting in eighteenth-century France, imperial narratives that saw people and planet as a ‘totality to be governed’ laid the conceptual basis for the crisis. They call for a ‘new environmental humanities’, and a shift away from market-based approaches that feed the beast.” – Barbara Kiser, Nature.
Ângela Ferreira’s works in the exhibition form part of a series titled “Stone Free” (2012) in reference to the 1966 hit song performed by Jimi Hendrix (1942–70). “Stone Free” creates correspondences between two voids below the ground, two ‘negative monuments’ as the artist has termed them: Chislehurst Caves, in southeast London, and Cullinan Diamond Mine in Gauteng Province, South Africa.
Chislehurst Caves is a man-made network of underground tunnels mainly worked in the late 1700s yet dating back to as early as 1250. The tunnels were excavated in order to mine chalk and flint. Following their use as an air-raid shelter during the second world war, the tunnels were transformed into a venue for rock concerts in the 1960s and 1970s. The Jimi Hendrix Experience played there in 1966 and again the following year, bringing Hendrix’s unique countercultural synthesis of social realism and psychedelic spiritualism based on African and indigenous-American imagery into the literal underground.
Cullinan Diamond Mine (known as Premier Mine from its establishment in 1902 until 2003) is famed for being the source of the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever discovered, in 1905. Most of the gems cut-and-polished from this stone were used to adorn the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The recent history of the diamond industry is inextricable from that of settler colonialism in southern Africa and a commodity cartel established by the De Beers corporation founded in 1888 by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes (1853–1902), two years before he became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony. De Beers owned all of the major mines in South Africa, as well as controlling global distribution until it began a recent sell-off of its less productive mines to the Petra Diamonds group, including divesting itself of Cullinan in 2008.
Ferreira was born in Maputo, Mozambique, in 1958, and lives in Lisbon, where she teaches Fine Art at the Lisbon University. http://angelaferreira.info
“A History of Detonations” (2014) is a glimpse at an extensive body of work byXavier Ribas devoted to exploring the legacy of the mining of sodium nitrate in northern Chile, which boomed from the 1870s until the early-twentieth century when it was discovered how to make the compound synthetically. Comprised of photographs taken by the artist during research visits, alongside vintage postcards and press prints bought on the internet, Ribas’s poster sequence takes us from Chile to London to the surface of Mars. The mining and trade of Chilean sodium nitrate was led by a class of British ‘gentleman capitalists’—aristocrats, bankers and merchants. The extraction of the resource not only industrialized the arid Atacama Desert at one end of the commodity chain, and enriched country estates at the other, but through its use as a chemical fertilizer and a component of explosives, it would radically alter a whole series of seemingly disparate geographies, bodies and institutions.
Ribas was born in Barcelona, 1960, and lives in London. He is a lecturer at the University of Brighton and associate lecturer at the Universitat Politècnica de València. http://www.xavierribas.com/ Latitudes is a Barcelona-based curatorial office initiated in 2005 by Max Andrews (1975, Bath, United Kingdom) and Mariana Cánepa Luna (1977, Montevideo, Uruguay). They are the curators of the CAPC exhibition ‘4.543 billion. The matter of matter’, and led the related month-long residency programme ‘Geologic Time’ that took place in September 2017 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. During 2009 Latitudes developed ‘Portscapes’, a series of ten public commissions in the Port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands (2009); in 2010–11 it was a partner organisation in the exhibition ‘The Last Newspaper’ (New Museum, New York) and in 2011 was the guest curator of the project space of the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León (MUSAC) in León, Spain. More recent curatorial projects include the solo exhibition ‘José Antonio Hernández-Díez. I will fear no evil’, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona (2016); ‘Compositions’, site-specific commissions for two editions of the Barcelona Gallery Weekend (2015 & 2016); and editing the online curatorial reportage initiative ‘Incidents (of Travel)’ developed in partnership with Kadist (initiated in 2016). www.LTTDS.org