Bold Tendencies, London
Written on the occation of the Bold Tendencies 2018 Visual Arts Programme: Ecology, featuring work from Arjuna Neuman, João Vasco Paiva, Irina Kirchuk, Emilija Škarnulytė, Lawrence Lek, Sterling Ruby, Johann Arens, Jenna Sutela, Richard Wentworth, Siân Lyn Hutchings (18 May — 22 September 2018).
The exhibition text focused on theoretical work published by Bruno Latour and Timothy Morton that conceived of an ‘End of Nature’ and a reformulation of ecology as a lens through which to observe contemporary society in its full complexities.
“In We Have Never Been Modern, Bruno Latour famously argued that the prevailing force of modernity was the attempted separation of nature and culture. That there was something fundamentally different about nature—out there—and us—in here. This, on the one hand, allowed for a rapid scientific objectification of the world and its mechanistic properties, leading to a ‘great acceleration’ of the human, out from the savagery of the wild. But has simultaneously silenced the reality of our interconnected and messy relationship with the world and what ‘being human’ really is. The extent of which has led us to grave, near apocalyptic ends.
The development of human society—its organisation, systems and bodies of knowledge—and its impact on the world around it has reached a point where the illusions Latour observes in modernity have become unsustainable. Since the beginning of ‘The Anthropocene’ and the ever growing evidence of human activity’s unprecedented impact on the planet and its ecosystems, it has become impossible to talk about the processes of ‘nature’ without falling into the debris, destitution or engineering of human agents. Similarly, advances in biology have made it impossible to talk of ‘the human’ without acknowledging facts such as that omega-3 fatty acids help improve human moods, combats stress and alleviate depression. That gut bacteria influences infant brain development and that viruses make up about 5% of the human genome.
The false distinction between nature and culture is further problematised by cutting-edge technologies, of which Latour gives a list: “frozen embryos, expert systems, digital machines, sensor-equipped robots, hybrid corn, data banks, psychotropic drugs, whales fitted with radar sounding devices, gene synthesizers, audience analyzers.” Written in 1993, Latour was yet to see the further, dramatic accelerations in technologies that have continued to complicated this relationship, let alone the recent moves toward ‘An Internet of Things.’
It would seem then, that we have arrived at what some have called ‘The End of Nature’—or rather, the collapse of nature as an exterior, dichotomised polarity to human culture. This conceptual leap, which is being steadily articulated, enacted and visualised in a number of different disciplines and academic fields—from posthuman philosophy, to neuromarketing or DIY biohacking—has become the prerequisite theoretical model needed for a better understanding of different ideas concerning ‘ecology.’”