Published 09 August 2017
In late 2015 the Sydney Environment Institute led by Co-Director Iain McCalman, in collaboration with the National Museum of Australia and the Australian National University were awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council for a Discovery Project titled Understanding Australia in the Age of Humans: Localising the Anthropocene.
Localising the Anthropocene is exploring the experience of the Anthropocene from the ground up – or the local and its connections to larger global forces. One of the ways the project will do this is by developing a digital exhibition called Everyday Futures, which showcases ‘object stories’ contributed by people and communities from across Australia and beyond. These object stories will serve as the foundation of a related book and travelling exhibition.
Creating the archaeology of emotions
The project explores what is often overlooked in Anthropocene thinking – the emotions, the drama, the inequality, the hope, the positive actions, and the politics of the present that produce and characterise the Anthropocene. The team of collaborators is using the concept of an ‘archaeology of emotions’ to guide its thinking. The object stories will create an archive of this epoch that is an alternative to rocks and strata.
The project aims to enrich the dominant Anthropocene narrative with cultural understanding. The project is interested in preserving cultural memory by exploring how personal experiences are tied to materiality.
Community members, school students, artists, writers, and scholars are invited to choose an object of the Anthropocene that relates to their place and to use that object as a prompt to tell a story about the changes happening there, and how they feel about it.
The project aims to discover how people are responding to the Anthropocene, what meanings they are creating, and if people are coming together to find ways of living in this world. The project welcomes your submissions, and if you are interested in contributing to the project, click here for details.
A tea cup and the Plastic of the Pacific: ordinary objects of the Anthropocene?
An everyday object submitted by Kirsten Wehner, a key researcher on the project, is a tea cup. Kirsten links the tea cup to her personal experience of growing up at Mt Stromlo, south-west of Canberra. Kirsten explained that a tea cup – a seemingly ordinary object, was recovered from the 2003 Canberra bushfires, and is linked to changing weather patterns and extreme weather. When reflecting on an object such as a tea cup recovered from a natural disaster, it is important to acknowledge that we should also allow people to mourn. The reality of working in the Anthropocene for some people is that they will have to deal with loss and we should provide a space that allows people to acknowledge how they feel about this.
Ecologist Jennifer Lavers submission is the plastic of the Pacific, which threatens the lives of seabirds and the ecosystem of Lord Howe Island, 600km off the east coast of Australia. Seabirds consume the plastic by mistaking it as fish, and end up dying of starvation. Jennifer explains that a unique forest exists on Lord Howe island ‘where seabirds and palm trees have evolved an unexpected and intimate relationship. Nowhere on Lord Howe Island do the birds exist without the palms, and no stand of palms exists in the absence of the birds. Bird and tree are one. Nature is whole.’ As plastic degrades over hundreds to thousands of years, we will be living with plastic pollution and its ecological impacts for the foreseeable future. Plastic is a key marker of the Anthropocene.
Both of these examples of these examples highlight loss (personal and ecological) and the exhibition of Anthropocene objects will provide opportunities for people to debrief – to come to terms with the past and plan for the future. However, the objects are also intended to highlight examples of people responding to the challenges of the Anthropocene, which is evident in the submissions of the Marra Creek waterponding and a leaky weir and regenerative farming, which provide instances of hope and human innovation in addressing the challenges of the Anthropocene.
For more information on the everyday objects, key researchers and details on the project Understanding Australia in the Age of Humans: Localising the Anthropocene, click here.
If you are interested in participating in the project and wish to submit an object, click here.
This news post is based a talk given by Cameron Muir at the Participatory Humanities workshop at the University of New South Wales, held 18-19 July.