Global warming, climate disruption and the threat of the planet becoming uninhabitable were on everyone’s lips until the current crisis broke out. Or, to be more precise: they had finally entered broader public consciousness, so that even politicians could no longer simply blindly govern as if such issues did not exist. A solution to these fundamental problems has not by any manner of means been found simply because these topics have now been temporarily pushed into the background. On the contrary, there seem to be good grounds to believe that the measures adopted worldwide to combat COVID-19 mean that for a long time to come climate and environmental issues will probably be treated as a lower priority than acute existential concerns. Hazarding a guess, the means likely to be involved in saving “the economy” in the near future bode ill in this respect.
At the same time, it has taken almost two decades for what is known as Anthropocene discourse to penetrate the consciousness of a broader public. After the Dutch meteorologist Paul J. Crutzen coined the term in 2000, quite some time passed before discourse about it was taken up in other realms – from culture to politics. Relatively early in this phase, artists also began to engage with anthropogenic changes to the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, as highlighted by the Anthropocene approach. This did not always entail adhering to strictly scientific criteria, instead encompassing myriad different aesthetic sensoria, knowledge-generating and activist approaches, which is perhaps excusable given the urgency of the subject. The crucial consideration was how to help this novel conceptual approach make a breakthrough as part of a new, more all-embracing ecological ethic (in this respect, certain institutions, such as Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, did important pioneering work, while the art world in general responded only hesitantly to this development).
Why talk now of “Post-Anthropocene”? In this context, several considerations play a decisive part. First of all, this edition takes the current situation as an opportunity to think beyond the status quo of a global pandemic that is hard to get under control. In a certain sense, “after the crisis” also means after “humankind” or after the geological era shaped by humans – after all, the outbreak of the pandemic stems largely from the self-same fundamental disposition that has radically altered the nature of the Earth’s surface and climate. The question to be addressed is therefore: What kind of future scenarios are conceivable in which both the viral threat to humanity and the anthropogenic factor (processes initiated by humans and the ensuing devastation) lose their destructive force? Is it possible to find a different kind of model for co-existence between human and non-human life forms than those developed to date? And which artistic projects point in a visionary direction in this respect, discarding habitual thought patterns – approaches that do more than simply reminding us of the planet’s plight or documenting the current crisis?
All these aspects are implicit in the prefix “post-”, even if at first glance it may seem presumptuous (not least because of its inflationary use). In this spirit, Olga Goriunova enquires about the conception of the subject that underlies Anthropocene thought and how it could meaningfully be expanded if one wishes to move beyond this mode of thinking. Her decision to call the unruly biological subjects of kefir and borscht as her principal witnesses suggests the direction this kind of expansion seeks to pursue. In her essay, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa examines the particular role played by the soil as a means of pinpointing scope to transform the relationship between humans and their environment. The urgent need to bring about change in this regard, in the spirit of reinvigoration, becomes apparent in the examples of ecological activism that Puig de la Bellacasa addresses in her argumentation, along with the art of Ana Mendieta, who died at an early age. Kathryn Yusoff elucidates the extent to which “life” – at the heart of all revitalization in tune with the environment – has to date been subject to a highly dubious limitation to and prioritization of human life. Yusoff advocates taking geophysical and geological factors into account to a greater degree in order to advance towards desperately needed political contextualization of anthropocentric bio-power. It is no secret that this power has always catered to a very specific conception of “Anthropos”. However, as Claire Colebrook points out in her essay, there are clear (and frightening) limits to the notion of “us” that this implies. She traces the course of those limits, which run through the history of slavery to colonialist dispositives still active today. Engaging with the idea of a “new wilderness” and drawing on the example of a climbing plant that is spreading worldwide, Anna Tsing provides a prime example of a more-than-human ecology that the other contributions in this issue also uphold.
The tangible forms that this more-than-human community could assume are also illustrated by the artistic contributions in this issue (by often previously overlooked artists, such as Stefan Bertalan or Horia Bernea). They all portray pathways to and visions for a more just “afterwards”. The underlying leitmotif is the question of whether it is perhaps time to develop new sensory responses and experiential modes in order to overcome the limitations of Anthropocene thinking, especially in the light of new challenges?
The Autumn issue seeks to provide answers to that question that are as relevant to the present as they are forward-looking.