Living in the End Times

Participants: Amy Balkin, Aurélien Gamboni & Sandrine Teixido, Rikke Luther, Maja Moesgaard and Joen Vedel

Galerija Miroslav Krajević
Šubićeva 29, 10000 Zagreb

6/10 — 29/10 2016

How to Respond to a Changing World? [1]

The world doesn’t environ us, it passes through us. What we inhabit inhabits us. What surrounds us constitutes us. We don’t belong to ourselves. We are always-already spread through whatever we attach ourselves to.  – The Invisible Committee

Copenhagen September 14th. The sun is shining in a clear blue sky, it’s 28 degrees Celsius. The average for Copenhagen in September is 12.8 degrees. Meteorologists record the highest temperatures ever in the month of September. The same went for August. And July. In fact, every month of 2016 has exceeded the average temperature for any previous year on record. We call it an Indian summer, we play in the sun and enjoy life outdoors in the warm evenings. Perhaps with apprehension.

If we feel apprehension it might be because we are increasingly aware of the precarity that defines our lives. As little as we can rely on there being free education, jobs or a more or less well-functioning welfare state in the near future, as little can we rely on the natural world being able to sustain us. At some level we know this. We know that the effects of global capitalism and Western modernity have interrupted the planet’s ecosystems and transformed the environment to the extent that life for future generations will become increasingly difficult. Surely this cancellation of the future must affect us?

Ant house on ruin
Photo Rikke Luther

On top of the ruins of a school in the Brazilian town of Bento Rodrigues a colony of ants have built a new habitat. The town was flooded by toxic mud after a mining waste dam burst on the 5th of November 2015. Sixty million cubic meters of toxic waste flowed through the landscape into the Atlantic Ocean killing seventeen people and leaving vast areas of land contaminated and uninhabitable. The full environmental consequences are still unclear.

Shierry Weber Nicholsen describes how environmental degradation generates a feeling of betrayal of the sense that life as such will continue. With radical changes in the climate we face comprehensive disturbances to the ecosystems that form the basis of all life on Earth, making living conditions for future human generations uncertain. Environmental destruction and radical transformation of the natural world not only represent death on a massive scale, but also an end to birth. Extinction. It represents the loss of a sense of security and confidence in the continuity of life. This assault on life, signalling the end of the world as we know it, is not something out of the ordinary though, it is something we live with all the time.[2]

Precarity defines our existence in different ways. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing talks about precarity as the condition of depending on others thereby being vulnerable to others. All living beings depend on each other in order to exist. Human beings need intestinal bacteria to be able to digest food, trees need pollinating insects to reproduce and so on. As living beings we are connected through interspecies relations that we depend upon for our survival. Nobody survives alone.[3] But this interdependency of humans with the non-human world has been repressed by the capitalist externalization of nature, which created the idea of an abstract social nature in order to be able to map, quantify and measure human and extra-human natures in the service of capital accumulation.[4] The varieties of alienating techniques that turn everything into resources form the basis of our societies culturally, economically and ideologically.

A new documentary on Danish National TV reignites the discussion on the use of antibiotics in pig farming, which has resulted in the spread of the multi-resistant MRSA virus. Most of the 17,000,000 pigs kept in Denmark are infected with the virus, as are now some 12,000 humans. Antibiotics are used to cure the illnesses of piglets that occur because they are removed from their mothers before their immune systems are fully functional. The piglets are taken from the sow as early as possible so she can be inseminated and give birth to more piglets. Denmark is the second largest pig farmer in the EU. Estimates predict that export numbers of pig meat will double in 2016 due to increased demand from China.

Today it seems that nature is changing faster than capitalism.[5] The speed of climate change and its far-reaching consequences has exceeded the pace with which our modern civilization is able to respond. Nor do we seem able to respond to the ways in which environmental degradation is affecting us on a daily basis. Confronted with anthropogenic environmental destruction it is hard not to feel anxious, overwhelmed, pacified. Is eco-anxiety an illness or a healthy reaction to a very real threat?

As almost every aspect of life in the West is interlaced with the consumption of the rest of the planet with devastating effects, our implication in the reproduction of a destructive system seem inescapable. What does it even mean to address questions of capitalism’s destruction of the natural world in an exhibition hosted in the headquarters of a global oil producing company? [6]

In her text The Anamorphic Politics of Climate Change Jodi Dean argues that the totality of disasters of the anthropocene overwhelm us to such a degree that pacification results, and suggests that instead we change our perspective. Rather than addressing climate change and ecological devastation in its global entirety we need to adopt a partial perspective and detect the openings in this seeming impasse, which can generate possibilities for collective action and strategic engagement. With works by artists that address both the fragility and the urgency of our time, Living in the End Times seeks to connect the affective dimensions of climate change with the politics of everyday life. The exhibition is an invitation to consider which cracks we can open in order to create new meetings in the common struggle for a future.

[1] Maja Moesgaard: Slowly but Surely, 2016.

[2] Shierry Weber Nicholsen: The Love of Nature and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern, MIT Press 2002, pp. 130 – 133

[3] Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing: The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton Press 2015, pp. 20 – 29

[4] Jason W. Moore: Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, Verso Books 2015, pp. 194

[5] Eduardo Viveiros de Castro interviewed by Joen Vedel in his film When Are we Now?, 2016

[6] The exhibition Living in the End Times is presented by Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic, a non-profit space for contemporary art hosted by INA, Croatia’s biggest oil producing company.