We treat engagement in the debate over climate change and the role of the museum in times of planetary change as a duty of public institutions, not as the latest fad or turn in art. At the same time, an awareness of the catastrophic agency of the human species and the inevitable end of the order of civilization as we know it requires another perspective on human activity—in “deep,” geological time, in the non-human perspective of millions of years. Only then can we perceive the consequences of the changes occurring since the era of the Neolithic Revolution: epidemics, radioactive fallout, new meteorological phenomena, the mass extinction of species, and even shifting of the earth’s axis due to glacier melt.
The title of the exhibition is drawn from a work of science-based fiction, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. There the Penumbral Age is described as a time of paralyzing anti-intellectualism, when humankind failed to take action to avert climate catastrophe.
The exhibition stresses the complex relations between art and science (including methods of observation, visualization, and experimentation) at a time when scientific narratives are eroding and expert knowledge is being supplanted. This crisis is growing in direct proportion to the increasing strength of fundamentalist movements negating the theory of evolution and undermining human impact on climate. Rejecting the legacy of the Enlightenment based on rationality and naturalism, the foundations are being erected for the “Dark Enlightenment.”
“The Penumbral Age” and the accompanying program will offer a space for discussion on irreversible management and new forms of being together and solidarity in the face of the monstrous problem of climate change. When tools like dialogue and persuasion, dissemination of graphs, statistics and data driven by scientific experiments and analysis fail, forms of artistic expression step in, operating on the emotions and confronting what is unknown and not understood.
The exhibition alludes to the legacy of 20th and 21st century land art. By land art we mean not only one of the streams of Western art characteristic of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also a continual global practice of political dimensions, arising from reflections on the impact (military, agricultural or industrial) of the human species on the planet, and sharing the planet with other forms of life. Land art is not limited to any medium, specific material, or geographical region.
Art during the Capitalocene addresses such issues as the “production” of nature, extractivism, the inevitable exhaustion of fossil fuel reserves, the consequences of the (wishfully) unlimited accumulation of goods and economic growth, ecocide and colonial exploitation. On the other hand, it seeks knowledge and guidelines for the future in such areas as indigenous, feminist and queer ecology, spirituality, and demodernization. Using the art exhibition as a tool, we also pose the fundamental question of what we want to salvage and in what form.
Among other works, the exhibition will feature conceptual ecological actions from the 1970s in Slovakia (Rudolf Sikora) and works using techniques of “field recordings” (Anja Kanngieser). We draw on the tradition of art plein-airs and the concept of “neutral art” (Ziema Zgorzelecka 1971), involvement of artists in reclaiming contaminated areas (Nishiko), as well as art used as a collective tool for ecological “persuasion” and consciousness-raising (e.g. Agnes Denes, Futurefarmers, OHO, and Anna and Lawrence Halprin).
The works in the exhibition come from the collections of such institutions as Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art Antwerp, and Tate Britain. The architectural concept for the show was prepared by the German studio Kooperative für Darstellungspolitik.