An exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is shocking and inspiring guests with its grim yet beautiful installations. In its final weeks, ‘Anthropocene’ illustrates the ways in which we, as a population, have altered the landscape of Earth and the legacy we leave for future generations. In fact, the term Anthropocene refers to the ‘current and geological epoch, in which humans are the primary cause of permanent planetary change.’ Large-scale murals, short documentaries by award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier, three augmented reality experience, and a number of photographs by Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian artist and photographer, tell the emotional story of human impact. The exhibition ‘take[s] us to places we are deeply connected to – but normally never see,’ reads AGO’s blurb about the show.
While the profound works can feel accusatory, they are not meant to assert blame onto anyone. ‘Our ambition is for the work to be revelatory, not accusatory, as we examine human influence on the Earth both on a planetary scale and in geological time. The shifting of consciousness is the beginning of change,’ reads a quote on the gallery wall by Burtynsky, Baichwal, and de Pencier about ‘Anthropocene.’
The exhibition portion of the multidisciplinary initiative created by the trio of artists called ‘The Anthropocene Project.’ The project stems from research done by the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), a group of international scientists who have proposed the term Anthropocene be used to describe the time in which we live as opposed to the current name: Holocene. The exhibition explores a number of categories researched by the AWG including terraforming, species extinction, and technofossils.
Burtynsky’s aerial photographs of the Earth’s surface put the world into strange perspective. Unnatural colours swirl in bodies of water making an uneasy kaleidoscope intermittently disrupted by the stream of a boat. Fields of solar panels begin to look like metallic scars against rolling fields. The photos force you to confront the large scale changes our society makes to the Earth that we often can’t see. To add to this, films by Baichwal and de Pencier put you face to face with societal issues like piles of ivory that were burned as an attempt to slow its trade. Such installations are strengthened by AR experiences that allow you to experience such issues like the 3D image of Sudan, the last male white Rhino, who died in 2018 along with the species.
‘Anthropocene’ is a brutal and haunting experience. Nonetheless beautiful, it makes you consider the potentially irreversible ways that we have altered the Earth during our lives. The show will be wrapping up at the AGO in just over a week (January 6th), but it will be traveling to the Manifattura di Arti, Sperimentazione e Tecnologia (the MAST Foundation) in Bologna, Italy in the spring of 2019. The trio of artists have also been working on a film of the same name for four years. The above is a trailer for the ‘cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet.’
The trio of artists have also created a documentary trilogy by the same name. The third portion of it is featured in the following trailer.