New modes and methods of collaboration between science, art and civic engagement are critical for understanding and shaping the complex transformation processes of the Anthropocene. The dimensions and scales of effects that this epoch manifest are simply too confounding otherwise. That is why HKW, in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and other partners across the world, have been continuously developing an Anthropocene Curriculum since 2013; a steadily growing corpus of experimental research questions, field studies, educational and participatory formats for collaborative transdisciplinary practices. It is a project that begins from the premise that any curriculum is knotted up in histories of power, context and value systems that are contestable, contradictory and interwoven with each other. And that, by consequence, such times of radical change require that reflective questions of purpose and intent become more prominent than usual – particularly when engaging in knowledge practices that are trying to respond to these changes.
The Anthropocene poses complex problems in this regard, because it is a holistic concept conveying the effects that ideological, economic and governance systems have had on the Earth’s metabolic systems. However, these changes are experienced differently at various scales and locations, so understanding their effects or responding to them is particular to when and where they have occurred and who is involved. But even those relationships between place, space and agency that form a particular context are themselves interdependent upon each other. Whereas rising sea levels know no national borders, coastal communities escaping seasonal flooding do.
How one responds to those two interrelated realities is a product of how one has learned to understand problems and how they are framed or passed down – which values, intents and methods are at play, be they learned or imposed. That is, one needs to delve into how knowledge is produced by accounting for the values underlying it, knowing full well how these produce asymmetries of power and partial ways of knowing. From this point of view, it would appear that responding to the Anthropocene requires a grasp of its topology rather than its topography – of how it produces conditional relationships, not simply local disasters.
The Shape of a Practice is an experiment in negotiating these particularities. To do so, it brings together over 100 academics, scientists, artists and activists from across the world to share research material that try to understand and respond to the Anthropocene through knowledge practices and local contexts. Over the course of a week, the research will be discussed and worked through in order to determine how the contexts, purposes and methods they articulate can be brought into conversation with one another leading to coordinated efforts and collective practices encompassing a tangle of concerns and approaches that are difficult to neatly stitch together.
Each of these research projects approaches the Anthropocene from their local-global relationships while also reflecting on the tools and knowledge traditions that formed these inquiries. For instance, the Somankidi Coura cooperative, which emerged from political organization and then led to farming, archival and pedagogical practices, demonstrates how local ecological issues square with the movement of global workers between communities in Mali and France. Elsewhere in Cheorwon, South Korea, human-crane entanglements show how rewilding is being used as a way of rethinking conservation in and around the demilitarized zone, weaving together technology, geopolitics and ecology.
This pairing of the global and the local in these researches is crucial for formulating a nuanced understanding of the Anthropocene, which is often thought of either as a planetary-scale concept or an extremely local concern. The Shape of a Practice focuses on bridging these two codependent ways of understanding by constantly negotiating the scales and relationships that weave in and out of each case and context.
The research material will be collectively worked through and discussed in four different practice-based seminars (Communicating, Sensing, Archiving and Consensus Building), which will act as catalysts for delving into the purpose, context and method that makes each research project what it is. A discursive program runs concurrently throughout the week, during which different aspects of the research will be discussed and presented to the general public, inviting them into the conversation.
These different projects are being brought together in an effort to work collaboratively and learn from one another across a global landscape molded by asymmetrical power dynamics, inequitable access and conflicting concerns. This approach aims to generate public discussions about the shared purpose of research communities and knowledge traditions and how they interface with the social and political concerns that ground them. As an inward reflection, it explores pathways toward equitable forms of consensus and to establish a mode of responding to the Anthropocene amid the radical multiplicity of planetary urgencies – urgencies often under the thumb of the powerful and wealthy and bent to their outsize concerns.
Concept and realization: Katrin Klingan, Nick Houde, Johanna Schindler, Janek Müller, Neli Wagner and Anna Chwialkowska in collaboration with Carlina Rossée and Christoph Rosol.