The Ends of the Anthropocene

conversation with Emeritus Professor of Earth System Science Will Steffen

‘The Ends of the Anthropocene’, Sight Unseen is a written conversation with ‘Earth System’ Scientist, Emeritus Professor Will Steffen. for CoVA, VCA and Perimeter Books in partnership with the Science Gallery Melbourne.

In 2020 Will Steffen published a report “Aim High, Go Fast” on the impacts of Climate Change on the planet and the urgency for all governments to act now to avoid catastrophic changes to our Earth System. In this conversation we speak about how artists might help visualise the impacts of the Anthropogenic changes the planet is facing. Will has been involved since the beginning in defining the concepts of the Anthropocene­—a name that is given to the geological epoch that charts the impact humans have had on the earth.  He has been cited many times by those trying to expand, explore or contest the concept.   Our conversations trace the origin story of the theory of the Anthropocene and together we think about what might remain “unseen” through the ideas that it proposes, while also wondering what role artists might play in expanding its territories and communicating the risks we face if we fail to act.

The essay appears in a collection that is collaborative, multidisciplinary and non-hierarchical in its scope. It draws on Western and First Nations knowledge systems to ask readers to see together. To see via cross-disciplinary collaboration; to see with help from non-human forces and beings; to see the togetherness often hidden from our gaze; and to strive to see an ecological and cosmological entirety while acknowledging, through practiced humility, that we can only ever see a small portion of what exists. At its most fundamental, the act of seeing is the sensory experience of detecting light. A confluence of science, art, cultural knowledge, imaging and imagining, Sight Unseen – which is edited by Edward Colless, Suzie Fraser, and Ryan Jefferies, and designed by Daly & Lyon – positions the notion of sight to be so much more.

CoVA x Perimeter is collaborative publishing initiative curated by the Centre of Visual Art at the University of Melbourne and independent publishing house Perimeter Editions. Foregrounding experimental and otherwise innovative discursive outputs from three key streams of enquiry – Postnational Art Histories, Feminism and Intersectionality, and Art + Science – the program spans research-in-progress, academic dialogues, artist responses, and essays, working to reframe scholarly research via a multiplicity of new perspectives and lenses. The Art + Science series, supported by Science Gallery Melbourne, creates a space for shared and collaborative conversations and research between scholars and practitioners across the arts and sciences internationally. The series broaches some of the critical challenges facing humanity – from climate change to artificial intelligence and gene editing – through a dialogic exchange across scientific and artistic disciplines and modes.

Edited by Edward Colless, Suzie Fraser & Ryan Jefferies.

With contributions by: Thomas Apperley, Elisabetta Barberio, Monica Bello, Drew Berry, Justin Clemens, Madeleine Collie, Sean Cubitt, Peter Galison, Adrian Heathcote, Chris Henschke, Tessa Laird, Beverley Meldrum, Karlie Noon, Patricia Piccinini, Alicia Sometimes, Will Steffen, Paul Thomas, Marcus Volz, Lisa Waup, and Liam Young.

Suggested Readings

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. The Climate of History in a Planetary Age, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Karskens, Grace. People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2020.

McKittrick, Katherine and Sylvia Wynter, Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, ed Katherine McKittrick, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2015.

McNeil, John Robert, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World, New York: W W Norton & Company, 2001

Moore, Jason. Capitalism in the Web of Life, New York: Verso, 2015.

Reynolds, Henry. Truth Telling: History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement, Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2020.

Wulf, Andrea. The Invention of Nature, The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt the Lost Hero of Science, London: John Murray Publishers, 2016.

Yusoff, Kathryn. A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018