Visit the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville to explore an era of rapid, radical and irrevocable ecological change through works of art by forty-five international contemporary artists. The World to Come: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene brings together more than sixty-five works of photography, film, sculpture and mixed media that examine the tumultuous relationship between humans and the planet.
The Anthropocene is a controversial term used to name a new geological epoch defined by human impact. While geological epochs are known as products of slow change, the Anthropocene has been characterized by speed. Examples include runaway climate change, rising water, surging populations and expanding technologies. Contemporary art plays a crucial role in the Anthropocene by upending traditional ways of thinking about nature and culture. Artists in the exhibition defy human mastery over nature, expose environmental devastation, seek justice, and ignite action.
The World to Come unfolds around seven overlapping themes: Deluge, Raw Material, Consumption, Extinction, Symbiosis and Multispecies, Justice and Imaginary Futures.
The verb “deluge” means to overwhelm or inundate with something, particularly water. Over the next century, sea levels could rise as much as seven feet. If that occurs, coastlines and entire cities will be indelibly altered and, in extreme instances, entirely lost.
The film Spatial Intervention 1, by artists Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch is an allegory of the Anthropocene, a poetic parable of human self-annihilation. It is a story about those who feel free to break the Earth but refuse to believe in the deadly consequences.
Raw Material examines humans’ need to transform natural resources into a source of profit. The Earth suffers large-scale mining, mountaintop removal, hydraulic fracking and extraction. Once Earth exhausts its supply of fossil fuels, simply creating more will not be an option.
Photographer Richard Mosse uses his camera to bring attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, uncontrolled mining of diamonds, gold, cobalt, copper, and coltan (used in electronic devices) is eroding land and polluting lakes and rivers, affecting the area’s ecology. Taking advantage of the unusual pink coloring created by a World War II infrared reconnaissance camera, Mosse denaturalizes the beautiful landscape in hopes of breaking the shield of indifference to human and environmental devastation.
Artists in this section address the toxic consequences of wanton waste on land, air and sea. In their work, they expose the risks of an economic system that prioritizes profit at the cost of human suffering and environmental devastation.
Yao Lu uses the form of traditional Chinese painting to express his concern about China’s rampant industrialization and urbanization. This work is similar to a painting created in the Song Dynasty style, made in a circular shape. From a distance it appears to be an oriental landscape with beautiful mountains and rivers. However, a closer inspection reveals piles of waste covered in green mesh mimicking lush hillsides, and the rivers are simply roads.
Some scientists predict that half of all plants, animals and birds on the planet will die off before the year 2100, a critical hypothesis for both individual species and ecosystems worldwide. Artists in this section move beyond mourning and melancholia, countering them with resistance, research and vigilance, by reaching to the past to understand the present.
Rhinos are an ancient race of animals and have been roaming the Earth for thirty-three million years. Poachers killed ninety-eight percent of the rhinos in Africa between 1960 and 1995. The last male northern white rhino died in the spring of 2018. Today, they are one of the most endangered species on Earth. The ghostly white saturation of Lavigne’s White Rhino, Namibia evokes the final disappearance of the grand rhino.
By Kerry Oliver-Smith, Curator of Contemporary Art, Harn Museum of Art