My fellowship has entered its two last months with my Southwest field study coming up in only three weeks. Hoping to avoid some of the - mostly weather-concerned - obstacles from my previous trips (Pennsylvania snowstorms, getting stuck in foggy Vermont forests), I’m looking forward to the autonomy of driving – and to get lost in the vast landscapes of the desert. Drawing from James Moore, Jane Bennett and Donna Harraway, the field study aims to examine the history of the frontier and the colonization of the Americas through the lenses of the Anthropocene, through deep time strata, geomorphology and terraforming.
The field study aims to examine the notion of the pristine landscape, the history of strata and deep time - 1st nature - as well as the landscape of the Anthropocene - a second nature unfolding. By portraying these testimonials side by side, sometimes in juxtaposition, sometimes in dialogue, I hope, in some way, to explore ways to de-nostalgify the idea of the wilderness and thus, maybe, a new eco-mythology.
Donna J. Haraway,:Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Cthulhucene, Duke University Press, 2016.
Jason W. Moore: The Capitalocene, Part I: on the nature and origins of our ecological crisis, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2017
Monique Allewaert, Pablo F. Gómez Gregg Mitman and Sophie Sapp Moore,: Plantation Legacies, Center for Culture, History, and Environment, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2019
‘I propose a name for an elsewhere and else when that was, still is, and might yet be: the Chthulucene. (The word) tentacle comes from the Latin tentaculum, meaning “feeler,” and tentare, meaning “to feel” and “to try”; myriad tentacles will be needed to tell the story of the Chthulucene.’ (Haraway, 2016)
Oil fields, Belridge California. Edward Burtynsky, 2002.
Exploring this sense of otherness, I wonder how–and if–it can be depicted; how it can be drawn, cut, measured.
In the essay ‘The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting back to the Wrong Nature’, William Cronon analyzes the trouble with the Western dualistic understanding of nature and humans as something completely separated and distinguished from each other. By understanding nature as something opposite from civilization, something sublime and frontier-esque, and a place to escape the struggles of the modern world, we create a bipolar moral scale between nonhuman and human, the natural and the unnatural. The idea of wilderness, in this way, becomes a reflection of mostly bourgeois, urban and masculine values - a depiction of Americas "most sacred myth of origin".
‘It was during the early modern era, and specifically in the Caribbean, where the intersection of emerging proto-capitalist economic models based on migratory forced labor (first indentures servitude, and later slavery) globalized commerce, and colonial regimes sustained on the basis of relentless racialized violence, gave rise to the transformative models of plantation that reshaped the lives of human and non-human beings on a planetary scale.’ (Allewaert et al., 2019)
Mapping iteration: Excavating maps of excavations. From ’The Geological survey of Pennsylvania 1898’ courtesy of Detre Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh.
Critics of the name ‘the Anthropocene’ argue, that the name indicates that all humans are equally responsible for the current state of environmental degradation as well as the dichotomous relationship to nature and the exploitation of earth being something that is inevitable part of being human.
Placing the Golden Spike
Views from my notebook: Exploring ways of representation - diagram of the properties of slag and mapping of South Works. Historical aerial photos via Illinois Geospatial Data Clearinghouse.
Today, the remnants of the huge ore walls stand as ruinous monuments among prairie vegetation, with forgotten iron pellets and huge chunks of slag still present and still shaping the landscape.
 Some scholars argue for naming the epoch the Plantationocene, as they understand the slave plantation system as the model for the machine-based factory system, and Andreas Malm and Jason Moore argues for the Capitalocene, to move away from the universal ‘anthropos’. Donna Harraway names it the Chtulucene: the Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils.” (Haraway, 2015)
Heather Davis and Zoe Todd argue in the article ‘On the importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene’ for placing the start date of the Anthropocene - ‘the Golden Spike’ at 1610 at the beginning of the colonial period, making the relation between colonialism and the contemporary environmental crisis explicit. They argue that the Anthropocene shouldn’t be seen as a new event, but as a ’continuation of practices of dispossessions and genocide coupled with a literal transformation of the environment, that have been at work for the last five hundred years.’ (Davis and Todd, 2016)
Geologists Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin were the first to propose a starting date of 1610, what they call the ‘Orbis Spike’. They propose 1610 for two reasons: the first being that the big number of plants and animals exchanged between Europe and the Americas drastically altered the ecosystems of both areas. The second reason: the genocide of Indigenous peoples can be read in the geological layers as a significant decrease in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The population in the Americas went from between 54 to 61 million peoples in 1492 to 6 million in 1650.
Construction site aesthetics.
When seeing wilderness as the truest form of nature, only achieved by escaping civilization, our perception of nature becomes too distant from our everyday lives, Cronon argues, and too distant from the actual root of the ecological crisis we’re facing. "(...) by imagining that our true home is in the wilderness, we forgive ourselves the homes we actually inhabit."
In ‘The Capitalocene, part I: on the Nature and Origins of Our Ecological Crisis’ Moore specifies, that using the name ‘the Capitalocene ‘means taking capitalism seriously, understanding it not just as an economic system, but it is also as a way of organizing the relations between humans and the rest of nature.’(Moore, 2017)
"(…) wilderness came to embody the national frontier myth, standing for the wild freedom of Americas past and seeming to represent a highly attractive natural alternative to the ugly artificiality of modern civilization. The irony, of course, was that in the process wilderness came to reflect the very civilization its devotees sought to escape."
Instead, he makes clear the value of acknowledging the concept of wildness (as opposed to wilderness) which can be found anywhere and the sense of otherness.
"How can we take the positive values we associate with wilderness and bring them closer to home? I think the answer to this question will come by broadening the sense of the otherness that wilderness seeks to define and protect. (…) Wilderness gets us into trouble only if we imagine that this experience of wonder and otherness is limited to the remote corners of the planet, or that it somehow depends on pristine landscapes we ourselves do not inhabit. (…) By seeing the otherness in that which is most unfamiliar, we can learn to see it in that which at first seemed merely ordinary."
The swamp is a fascinating ecosystem of gum trees, cypresses, termites and Spanish moss (to mention a few). Gum tree roots shooting vertically, rising above the water surface as weird organic stalagmites side by side with termite nests, occupying and slowly completely absorbing weak trees. And everywhere on top of that; massive heaps of Spanish moss covering inhabiting almost every tree -- although appearing kind of intrusive, the moss, a type of epiphyte (gr. epi ’upon’ and phyton ’plant’) is not a parasitic plant; it nourishes exclusively from the air and waterfall and thus has no negative effect on the host, whose body it inhabits. In between these correlations appears the occasional floating ruins, some of them still fragments from Hurricane Katrina; a detached foundation from a house no one knows who belongs to, a raft bathroom, intact with air conditioning and a boat, slowly sinking, but with its ironic name still visible painted atop of the door: ’Steel Afloat’.
And everywhere, occupying the shore; abandoned crane platforms and factories, that once produced huge steel elements, but never recovered from the devastations and now stands as solemn monuments along the river. But also; houses that have been re-erected on several feet high concrete pillars as to be ready for the next rise of water level, that no one knows when will come, but all expect - everything a system of decay and adaption and new life, all inhabitants, organic or not, reacting in the same way, existing across time and changing conditions.
I spent the holidays in New Orleans. What made the biggest impression was how the cemeteries and the swamp, although initially two very different spatial typologies, seemed very related; both somehow embodying systems of decay and adaption, existing with both the past and present.
Points of impact.
Fungi symbiosis, Vermont 2018
The riverside of the Honey Island Swamp, an agglomerate of drifting fragments and architecture that constantly adapts to the changing natural conditions.
The Capitalocene The Plantationocene The Cthulhucene
Views from my notebook: trying to make sense of it all
March has passed by with busy projects at the office while I prepare for a field study in the South West. I intend to explore notions of the American frontier myth and the big scale exploitations of land happening in the vast landscape of the west, almost mirroring the scale of the geological formations of the area: from the megastructure of the Hoover Dam to the Bingham Canyon Mine, the biggest man-made excavation in the world. The mine was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Meanwhile in Chicago, a different ecology: Site visit at a construction site of one of the Myefski projects in downtown Chicago. The fire isolation foam still uncovered, almost creating a cave-like experience.
Since it first was suggested the term the Anthropocene has been discussed widely across both the sciences and the humanities. Whereas the most often used start date (and the one I’ve written about earlier) was set to the time around the 20th century’s ‘great acceleration’, scholars are arguing for different (and earlier) start dates (along with more fitting alternatives on how to name the epoch.
The Hetch Hetchy Valley
Cronon, William: ‘The trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting back to the Wrong Nature’ in William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground, Rethinking the Human place in Nature, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995.
Using the name the Plantationocene, they argue, makes visible power relations and economic, environmental and social inequalities. The authors ask: ‘What different understandings of land and of life emerge? What are the material transformations the plantations has produced? And how have such material transformations sustained global flows of knowledge and capital that continue to reproduce the plantation in enduring ways?’ And finally, quoting Caribbean Studies scholar Malcom Ferdinand: ‘What might environmentalism look like if we began, not from wilderness, but the plantation?’ (Allewaert et al., 2019)
I hope to study how architectural methods like mapping and technical drawing can be used as subjective and investigating tools - and as means to translating whatever findings the field studies will bring into spatial characters.
 Merriam Webster: Anthropocene
In Chicago, I visited ‘Steelworkers Park’ at South Works, previously the home of a US Steel manufactoring plant, the largest blast furnace in the world. The area was incrementally built out from the shore of Lake Michigan, artifically shaped on a foundation of slag, the non-iron byproduct of the steel production.
Views from my noteboook: Exploring ways of visualizing data. Selected diagrams from "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward R. Tufte.
While very aware of the limitations of the term the Anthropocene, Davis and Todd stresses its generative power in ‘providing a term, that groups together the horrors of environmental crisis and in re-animating our relationship with the world in a manner that draws, but is also differentiated from, the environmental movements of the past (…) by dating the Anthropocene to colonialism we can at least begin to address the root of the problem, which is the severing of relations through the brutality of colonialism coupled with an imperial, universal logic.’ (Davis and Todd, 2016)
‘The choice is between a Cartesian paradigm that locates capitalism outside of nature, acting upon it, and a way of seeing capitalism as a project and process within the web of life.’ (Moore, 2017)
As a particular intense period for Myefski Architects comes to an end, I am looking forward to focus a bit more on my Fellowship project again. This month I’m planning the first of my out-of-state field studies; exploring the remnants of copper- and slatemining in Vermont. The field study will present an opportunity to try out strategies for collecting, archiving and representing, and for combining the theoretical and the practical – and I’m very excited finally to activate this part of the project.
The Anthropocene - anthropo- from anthropos "human" and -cene from kainos "new" or "recent" – is the proposed name for our current geological epoch, defining the period of time in which ‘human activities have had an environmental impact on the Earth regarded as constituting a distinct geological age’  - as a part of my fellowship, I’ll implement a series of field studies researching the concepts of ownership, belonging and taking of land related to this.
Three alternatives (as shortly mentioned in my previous post, too) are:
Davis, Heather and Zoe Todd: On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene in ACME, an International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2016
Haraway, Donna: Anthropocene, Capitalocene. Plantationocene, Chtulhucene: Making Kin in Environmental Humanities, vol 6, 2015
Weizman, Eyal: The Conflict Shoreline. Gottingen: Steidl, 2015.
The three related alternate namings of our current epoch all speaks of tentacular thinking, of ways to understand and question inter-relationships – between human and non-human beings, between power structures, economy and ecology.
Artifacts of the iron melting and ore walls at South Works, Chicago.
As with the date for the starting point of the Anthropocene, the name in itself is subject of several discussions – this is one of the reasons I find this field of study so interesting: starting as a purely geological epoch, the subject and how to understand it continues to expand in interdisciplinary entanglement.
Collection of mausoleums at the St. Patrick Cemetery in New Orleans.
Following Thanksgiving, I spent a week collecting, drawing, and reading in Vermont and Pittsburgh. And, what seemed just as insightful; driving through the country, where the different typologies and changes in the land became that much obvious. From Vermont, with abandoned quarries hidden in the mountains and vastness and forests and the absence-by-law of billboards along narrow roads, through Pennsylvania’s infinite network of highways and awkwardly placed roundabouts in the middle of nowhere - and finally, Pittsburgh, where I spent the days looking through old mining reports and photo archives as well as trying to find their presence in the modern city, where the only remnants of the old coal and steel industry are an array of chimneys and three iron furnace vessels awkwardly placed in the courtyard of two open-air malls.
Finally, in addition to the name of the Plantationocene, Donna Haraway suggests the Cthulhucene:
The name The Plantationocene is a new proposed alternative, part of a current seminar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the article ‘Plantation legacies’ the authors uses the past and present plantation worlds as a reminder that environmental exploitation and problems cannot be seen as separate of colonialism, capitalism and racism and defines the plantation as a ‘transformational moment in human and natural history on a global scale (…)a ‘synthesis of field and factory’:
Davis and Todd argue that colonialism, especially in the form of settler colonialism, always was about terraforming, transforming the land ‘into a displaced vision of Europe’ and they quote Eyal Weizman: ‘If (…) we look at climate change from the point of view of the history of colonialism, we no longer simply see it as a collateral effect of modernity, but rather as its very target and aim. Indeed, colonial projects from North America through Africa, the Middle East, India and Australia sought to re-engineer the climate. Colonizers did not only seek to overcome unfamiliar and harsh climatic conditions, but rather to transform them. Native people, who were seen as part of the natural environment, were displaced along with the climate or killed.’ (Weizman, 2015)
Moore sees, what he calls the ‘Cartesian narrative’ (seeing the social as being disrupted from nature) as fundamental to the violence of capitalism, where nature is seen as something that can be instrumentally manipulated:
As my first month and a half at Myefski Architects has passed by - I've mainly been getting familiar with the projects, programs and ways of working at the office - I’m slowly beginning to initiate my research project by investigating sense of ownership and belonging in the Anthropocene.
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