Anthropocene Mobilities

This panel addresses travel, migration and the mobility of human and non-human populations, including animals, fungi and plants, in the light of the current environmental crisis. It takes its point of reference from the sociologist Andrew Baldwin, who coined the term ‘Anthropocene mobilities’ to address how the concept of the Anthropocene can be explored through the lens of mobility. In so doing, Baldwin focused primarily on how discourses about mobility justice intersect with environmental considerations. But this panel aims to redress the anthropocentric focus that has defined these discussions. We wish to explore the notion of ‘Anthropocene mobilities’ as a means of decentring human-only narratives and diversifying current perspectives on movement, and we invite papers that bring these concerns to studies of art, culture, and its histories.

Session Convenors:

Anne Daffertshofer, University of St Andrews

Alistair Rider, University of St Andrews


Anne Daffertshofer, University of St Andrews

Anthropocene Mobilities: Exploring Movement in Times of Ecological Crisis

This paper explores the term ‘Anthropocene Mobilities’ and presents it as a framework for engaging with the theme of movement and travel in response to the ecological crisis. This analysis draws on an area of sociological research know as mobility studies, and I focus in particular on the publications of Mimi Sheller, who has written extensively about what she calls mobility justice, and a ‘New Mobilities Paradigm’. Central to her thesis is the claim that the uneven distribution of access to mobility play a critical role in what she calls the triple crisis of climate change, urbanisation and migration.

My definition of Anthropocene Mobilities also takes its reference point from another sociologist, Andrew Baldwin, who is responsible for coining the term. While both Sheller and Baldwin mention the need to include other-than-human mobilities in these debates, both maintain a focus that is predominantly anthropocentric. My goal is to redress this by attending more specifically on the movement of non-human entities, including plants, animals, drones and hazardous chemicals, to challenge anthropocentric narratives of humankind as separate, detached or superior. Instead, I want to discuss movement in relation to works of contemporary art that emphasise interspecies entanglement and interconnectedness.

Eszter Erdosi, University of Edinburgh

From Mobility to Monumentalisation: Tracing the Migration of the Greenland White-fronted Goose in Hannah Imlach’s Skein Dial (2023)

Scottish artist Hannah Imlach’s Skein Dial is a sculptural installation in Loch Lomond, which takes the form of a sundial that traces the transcontinental migration of the Greenland White fronted geese. The birds make their arduous journey to Greenland in the spring to breed, and return to Scotland in the autumn to overwinter. Both of these moments are marked by Skein Dial, which thus translates more than human mobilities and temporalities into sculptural form.

Seasonal cyclicality, avian movement and Imlach’s piece are inevitably intertwined, but the reading of Skein Dial is equally underpinned by the endangered state of the goose. This paper will consider how the migration and the decline of this Red List species mediate the possible interpretations and functionality of Skein Dial. The Greenland White fronted goose’s global population numbers decreased by half between 1999 and 2022, which may foreshadow the slow transformation of Imlach’s piece from a scientifically programmed and functional art installation into a poignant monument for the species. As such, how the geese move and how long they will be able to do so shape the interpretation of Imlach’s work both at present and in the future, hence adding a layer of uncertainty to the piece. While avian migration, as translated by the sundial, highlights the stakes of conservation politics today, it equally underlines affective properties related to nostalgia and the anticipation of potential loss. Whether Skein Dial retains its original conceptuality or turns into a commemorative piece depends on responses to the urgencies that impact avian mobilities.

Edward Christie, University of St Andrews

From Globalisation to Planetarity: Rethinking Anthropocene Mobilities With Rasheed Araeen’s ‘Ecoaesthetics’

In her book The Death of a Discipline, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak advocates for the replacement of globalisation with what she terms ‘planetarity’—a transition which, the critical theorist explains, would involve shifting from a hegemonic to a discursive mode of engaging with the world that prioritises the navigation rather than the reduction of difference. Importantly for our context, Spivak glosses her definition of planetarity by contrasting what she describes as ‘planet-talk’ and ‘planet-thought’, and highlights the application of this distinction to environmentalist discourse. While planet-talk disguises imperial imposition under the guise of sustainability, planet-thought works to reconfigure relations of power as equitable and relational bonds between individuals, communities, and species. This paper suggests that this change offers us a principle which might guide the reimagination of the notion of ‘Anthropocene mobilities’ beyond its association with anthropocentrism and globalisation. To further clarify what this might resemble, I utilise Spivak’s concept of planetarity, or planet-thought, as a theoretical lens to elucidate the political ambitions of two ongoing works by Rasheed Araeen: Mediterranea (2001–ongoing) and Shamiyaana (2008–ongoing). Exemplifying what the artist refers to as ‘ecoaesthetics’—a term which denotes Araeen’s commitment to mobilising his practice to support social and environmental justice—I argue that these works push the boundaries of conceptual art and gesture towards a socio-environmental utopia in which humans transcend the colonial flows of globalisation and instead exist collectively and sustainably.

Nora Bergbreiter, Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe

“Our present sinks spill into the sinks of the future”: On Moving Residues in Contemporary Art

Today’s toxic and hazardous waste residues can no longer be contained. Wherever these substances are moved, they will persist over geological time and outlive human-made systems (Gray-Cosgrove/Liboiron/Lepawsky 2015). Understanding waste as something that leaks and resists human control refocuses the perspective on its transformative properties. Uncertainty becomes a key element in the relationship between waste and its impact on climate change. The project Rare Earthenware (2018) by the interdisciplinary collective Unknown Field Division is conceived as a research journey that traces rare earth elements back to their origins. The project consists of three objects and a video depicting the migration of waste by following global supply chains and combining different temporalities. Three vessels have been shaped from waste (tailings) collected during the journey, in an attempt to bind their toxic residues. From an ecocritical perspective, I examine how Rare Earthenware, especially through the materiality of the vessels, fails to contain the hazardous residues of industrial extraction. Therefore, I am paying particular attention to the multiple temporal scales as well as to the different forms of migration that are involved in the project. Guiding questions are: How does waste migrate across environments, transforming the biosphere, bodies and possible futures? How does the understanding of waste matter as perpetually leaking change human and non-human relationships to waste?

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