A Planetary Praxis in the Anthropocene

“Becoming planetary is a way to consider how the planetary is not a uniform or fixed set of conditions, but rather signals conditions of difference, as well as collective responsibility and possibility with and through those differences.”
Jennifer Gabrys

In the present age, planet Earth appears like an anthropogenic sculpture. There are no landscapes, no spheres of material or life, that human activities have not transformed and reshaped. The traces of technologies, economic activities and their cosmological motivations can be read from the sediments, ice sheets, and oceans. All the while, global production chains and relationships of exploitation let us bear witness to violent processes of colonial land seizure and labor expropriation. Consequently, the challenges of the Anthropocene can be understood only from a planetary perspective cognizant of social and geopolitical connections and their feedback effects.

Where is the Planetary? asks about the malleability of these connections. Here, the question of the “where” of the planetary refers less to topography than to topology. The “planetary” is a dimensional category in only one respect as it is also a formulation of relationships. The external, scaling gaze is always in danger of suggesting power and feasibility. However, this gaze also carries within it the failure of a specific cosmology in which Earth is steadfastly available for land seizure and exploitation. Pandemic(s), resource conflicts, climate change and war now accompany a new understanding of Earth as a planet that is fragile and capable of change. Therefore, a genuinely planetary perspective is sensitive to cosmological diversity – it undermines the anthropocentric worldview and develops an interdependent understanding of terrestrial life on the planet.

Against this background, Where is the Planetary? embarks on a collective search for a model for successful cohabitation. It is less about practicing a “planetary gaze” than convening a “planetary gathering” that is conscious of its involvement in producing itself within the polyphony of planetary relationships with a collective praxis. The Earth system processes, triggered and drastically accelerated in the Anthropocene, make it more than clear that the planet is not an object but a network of relationships: an interplay between diverse cohabitation constellations, of friendship and biome, of exchange and robbery, of kitchen and hospital, of market and laboratory. In this sense, a planetary praxis always means relationship-building.

But how to begin?

The planetary, as a mode of thought, has a long and varied history of holistic approaches that, beyond the concepts of “world,” “Earth,” and “globe,” have recognized the references and relationships of human existence in the universe. In recent history, these have included the terraforming hypotheses of Carl Sagan and the Spaceship Earth concept of design theorist Buckminster Fuller; the perspectives of thinkers such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Dipesh Chakrabarty, informed by postcolonialism; through to Bruno Latour’s engagement with planetary forms of governance.

In search of a manifold and anti-authoritarian approach to the planetary, it is oriented above all by philosopher Sylvia Wynter's motif of “being human as praxis.” This is a praxis that continually invents new forms and paths of collaboration. In essence, the turn to the planetary dissolves the anthropocentric worldview and instead proposes an interdependent understanding of terrestrial life on the planet. We understand Where is the Planetary? as an attempt and an invitation to embrace the planetary and assert the possibility of such a praxis.

The precondition for this attempt is an engagement with cosmologies that lend space and meaning to planetary history. Cosmologies place “being human” in relationship to the geophysical and biological conditions of life, and thus shape the very possibility and form of a planetary praxis. In cosmologies, the interplay between material and symbol, biology and meaning – which characterizes human life and collective living – is condensed. These categories are paradigmatic for the human attribute of impacting the material environment, through the collaborative production of knowledge and its dissemination and application. We think that the recognition of the potent character of these cosmological orders and narratives are essential to the search for models of successful interhuman and cross-species cohabitation.

Where is the Planetary? asks how a successful planetary habitability can be expressed compositionally and cosmologically, both as a political demand and as a geophysical reality. The event looks for coordinates and intersections, convergences and tensions, that are generated when countless cosmologies group around a collective planetary cosmology.

Experimental setups

We have invited the artist Koki Tanaka to develop a series of experiments through which a planetary praxis can be brought to light. In his temporary installations and constellations, Tanaka looks for utopian moments and situations of communality, whereby the objects of his observations are essentially everyday work sequences and procedures asking: How can we negotiate the dimensions of planetary decision-making in moments of exhaustion and overload resulting from the repetition of physical activities? What insights into the use of resources and the conditions of planetary habitability can we gain from collaborative work on a soup recipe?

By removing these everyday activities from their ordinary, self-evident context, Tanaka reveals their hidden potential for exchange and transformation. His method resembles that of an “alchemy of cooperation,” which never loses sight of its utopian aim of successful togetherness and, in the process, continually and unintentionally generates situations, moments, and gestures of understanding.

An essential component of Tanaka’s experiments is the continual presence of film cameras, which, within the context of Where is the Planetary?, are operated by the artist together with the film collective TINT. The filming and being filmed interrupt the self-evident character of the activity sequences and direct attention to the particular habitual and abnormal features of togetherness. The Where is the Planetary? event is simultaneously a film set in which the borders between participant, public and film crew become blurred – that is, they are negotiated live. Thus, a collective situation emerges that sharpens awareness for the present and its possibilities. In this sense, the film crew are simultaneously witnesses and protagonists who affirm the collective acts of searching in the present and archive them for the future.

Looking for the planetary

The Where is the Planetary? participants will link Koki Tanaka’s experimental setups to the theoretical examination of planetary conditions. On the basis of five central questions, the event attempts to outline the cosmological and material conditions of a planetary praxis through collective activities and thought exercises. These questions serve as both a research assignment and an organizing principle for Where is the Planetary? They structure the discursive space within which the planetary praxis could unfold.

What are the conditions for habitability?
The biochemical preconditions for the continuance of life on the planet can be clearly outlined. But how do these material “planetary limits” behave in conjunction with the immaterial planetary conditions of ways of living, values and political systems? What possibilities exist for productively thinking of these spheres in their connections?

How can habitability be measured?
Planetary thinking promotes the bringing together of forms of knowledge and content while taking into account the local peculiarities of places, communities and ecologies. How can knowledge at the planetary level be effectively and respectfully negotiated between different perspectives?

What planetary damage can be repaired?
The mitigation of the effects of the Anthropocene will require intensive care work. This work provides the opportunity to help “being human as praxis” gain new meaning by inventing new, more equitable relationship patterns and overcoming colonial dynamics. But who will carry out this planetary care work? And which conditions are worth preserving, and which not?

Who gets to decide what actions are taken?
Planetary thinking takes the various needs and positions of planetary protagonists into account and keeps the cross-generational and intensive feedback character of decisions in the Anthropocene in focus. The aim is to develop a praxis that reflects on the interconnection between decision-making and political, cosmological and biochemical processes and transforms it into a productive collaboration.

How do we tell planetary stories?
How can we tell stories about life on the planet that provide information on both where human civilizations come from and how they could develop? What should this narration contain? How could it place civilizations in a position to guide future planetary developments?

Along these questions, and under the direction of Koki Tanaka, the HKW’s Auditorium becomes an intermediary space in which discourse and gesture combine in order to collectively seek out the “responsibilities and possibilities” (Jennifer Gabrys) of a planetary praxis.

Katrin Klingan, Nick Houde, Janek Müller, Neli Wagner