The beauty of the Anthropocene

Climate change may be a direct threat, but there is still a lack of real action. Climate targets, for example, based on the Paris climate agreement, do not go much further than paper. Like most human good intentions, the action phase is never reached. All we have left is the imagination, which confronts us with our own failure and can perhaps provide that nudge in the right direction.

A Bestiary Of The Anthropocene is an example of this artistic approach. The beautifully designed book – reflective silver ink on matte black paper – is part of an exhibition between June and September last year in the Eindhoven cultural center Onomatopee. The book is curated and compiled by Nicolas Nova, co-founder of the Near Future Laboratory research group and affiliated with the Art and Design University of Geneva. Nova takes inspiration from philosopher Timothy Morton, who introduced the concept of dark ecology in the previous decade: a philosophy of the Anthropocene. Loosely translated in the words of Morton: how do we live peacefully with as many other living beings as possible?

In one of the eleven articles in this book, design theorist Benjamin Bratton comes closest to that way of thinking. He rightly claims that maintaining the separation between nature and culture will only make the climate crisis worse. Instead, we must embrace the idea that there is no nature. If the Anthropocene brings us something positive, then that notion: everything on our earth is intimately connected.

A Bestiary of the Anthropocene contains several beautiful essays. However, it is the illustration by Maria Roszkowska of that makes this such an appealing book. Nova was inspired by medieval illustrated atlases of the animal and plant kingdoms. Roszkowska sketched more than a hundred illustrations, drew them by hand, and digitized them. The results are beautiful.

The silver ink on matte black creates a raw look that leaves enough room to stimulate the reader’s imagination. The captions written by Nova are short and slightly ironic. That gives a light-hearted tone to the sometimes intense reality. The illustrations show how far man’s influence extends: a mouse with a human organ on its back, a fish full of microplastics, an immeasurably deep hole in the earth, genetically modified fruit.

Then there are the unintended effects of human action: bird’s nests built from plastic and cigarette butts, worms that eat plastic, Chernobyl fungi that protect against radioactive radiation. The multitude of illustrations gives a nuanced picture of our current time in which biological and technological material come together and forge new alliances. Usually just like that, without human interference. A development that offers hope.

When we can leave old notions of innocent nature and contaminated human technology behind and see our current world for what it is, we can look for ways to truly live together.

A Bestiary of the Anthropocene: On Hybrid Minerals, Animals, Plants, Fungi, and Other Specimens.(2021) by Nicolas Nova & is published by Onomatopee.

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This is a slightly altered version of the Dutch review that was published in Gonzo (circus) #164, July/August 2021.

By theo

neo-accelerationist (nX) | design and media sociologist | tells stories about alternative futures