Naming can also be a covering over

Talk by Laura Hopes @Borough Road Gallery, 17.00, 8th January 2020. All welcome.

In this talk I explore the power dynamics inherent within the naming of something; the conferring of ownership, of defining accessibility to or relationships with a subject. Central to this examination is the theoretical and political sleight of hand enacted through the naming of the Anthropocene and the narrative absences connoted by its naming and responses to it. I utilise theories of the Sublime to explore the Anthropocene, but why the sublime? What relevance does a romantic theory of rhetoric and landscape appreciation hold within the tumultuous now of the anthropocene? How does a theory symbolised by tenets of astonishment, majesty and awe map onto a contemporary landscape, an anthropocene landscape blighted by industry, technology war or climate emergency?

The talk reviews the synonymity between the terms the Sublime and the Anthropocene, and how each term connotes themes of hegemony, domination, subjugation and distance. It urges an ontological turn away from traditional readings of the Sublime indicating mastery, removal and fear of the other; towards acceptance and empowerment of the state of vulnerability and an acknowledgement of the shared precarity of humans and more-than-humans. It moves through possible advents of the Anthropocene but warns against a myopic emphasis upon the dating and naming of the epoch, arguing that this narrow focus precludes weightier issues of marginalised narratives and overlooked ontologies that may offer a valuable perspective upon future possibilities of ‘living in the ruins’ (Tsing 2015).

Laura Hopes is an artist and researcher working with digital sound and film, based upon site-specific explorations of the sublime anthropocene. Interested in the use of stories to activate place, she generates playful interventions to illuminate terrifying themes and radical and provocative re-interpretations of place. She contests liminal spaces between proximity and distance. Her work activates not a politely distanced spectatorship of the sublime, but explores a blinded, immersed experience of the world as hyperobject.

The places in which makes her physical and sensorial evocations of the sublime are also signal locations of the anthropocene, landscapes altered by dint of their commodification, the value in their materiality; sculpted, hewn, sold. Sometimes the scars appear natural; beautiful; sublime; sometimes the aesthetic overload of these majestic places lures despite the obvious entropy, a beautiful horror which simultaneously appeals and appalls.

* The title is a quote from Kathryn Yusoff’s A Billion Black Anthropocenes or None (University of Minnesota Press, 2018), 14.

Image: detail of large scale illuminated text installation by Still/Moving.