Cultural Production in the Anthropocene by Christopher Beer The anthropocene is a scientific term that refers to the measureable and lasting presence humans have imposed on the Earth since the industrial revolution. The by-products of technological innovation, disposable plastics, automobile emissions, and power plant waste will last far beyond our day-to-day measures of time, extending to a timeframe of geologic proportion. Bending nature to our will is proving to have lasting effect on our way of life—climate change feeds extreme storms, excess waste clogs our oceans and airways, increasing global need for clean water to drink and air to breathe. Scientists are coming up with new terms for plastics embedded in rocks, as plastiglomerates are now preserved in the geological record. We trade our future freedoms for these momentary comforts in our now. As artists engage in this world, they cannot turn a blind eye to the environmental systems that are evolving to increasing complexity every day. Even if their cultural production does not directly comment on the anthropomorphic phenomenon itself, themes wrap themselves up in the symptoms: consumption, collection, memory, transition, hierarchy, interaction, site, and sustainability. In Changing States of Matter, Hamblin and Zuñiga’s work engages with time and human experience through two modes of perception—with a macro-lens in the anthropomorphic sense, while also zooming in to engage with a more personal set of layered histories and experiences that are autobiographical and current. Zuñiga works in multiples, creating a rhythm through her installations that transcend to moments of introspection. She works to pinpoint her place in the universe through the
objects she crafts. Through these meditations she is able to alter materials like wood, glue, clay and raw carbon into natural systems of order that invite freeform narratives to emerge, all linked to the hand of the maker. Hamblin collects detritus from her past productions—paint chips, bits of foam, crystals, and found objects—and reformats them into a multitude of metamorphic beings that manifest a rich strata to be mined by viewers. Elements that have been honed over time produce an intersection of her individual state of being and the challenges we all face in finding purpose in our daily experience. While the essence of each artist is revealed through their practice, another commonality emerges—an engagement with time offered by their choice of materials. The skins they fabricate relate a sense of order, collection, fragility, and life. They are made with materials familiar to us at the beginning of this geological epoch. Raw carbon and plastic bits present in their cast films parallel the experience of coating the Earth in these same materials. As both artists create these relics of experience, the work serves as a reflection of the anthropocene, separated only by scale. As each artist sends their materials through a process of manual production, there is a reliance on synthetic materials to help bind, secure, and bring life to their forms of introspective experience. Over time these materials will succumb to nature, transitioning to their next form, yet still maintaining their essential state for thousands of years to come. The compositions they create, using modern building blocks of our world, invite a confrontation with the status quo, excavating new realities to ponder. It is through intentional choices in material, composition, display, and personal narrative that these artists provide insight, allowing us to think deeper about our current paradigm of existence and what could be next for the planet we call home.
Created by Kelly Johnson and Chris Beer