Catastrophe Aesthetics: Affective Epistemologies of Climate Change in Experimental Media Art
Mulvogue, Jessica Siobhan
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Catastrophe is no longer an exception to the everyday. Anthropogenic (or capitalogenic) climate change is slowly but radically altering Earth. But climate catastrophe does not abide by conventional understandings of the catastrophic. Rather than a temporally and spatially bound rupture, climate change is slow-moving, vast, and in the everyday, imperceptible. This complicates its representation. My dissertation contributes to a growing conversation that asks: how do we effectively (and affectively) convey the slow warming of Earth, the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, or the geological imprint of the human species? These are crucial questions for making sense of a complex present and for exposing and resisting the structures and systems that have produced this present. I argue that the aesthetic realm is a privileged space in which climate change catastrophe can be made visible and, more broadly, sensible. I examine a diverse group of experimental media artworks: Buckminster Fullers expanded cinema environments, The Geoscope and World Game; the fossil-fuel themed interactive documentaries Offshore (Brenda Longfellow, 2013) and Fort McMoney (David Dufresne, 2013); and a collection of contemporary, geological experimental film and photography. While emerging from diverse contexts and focusing on different climate-related themes, these artworks provide a rich arena to explore what I am calling catastrophe aesthetics. Catastrophe aesthetics is a mode of critical art making that attempts to express the catastrophic nature of climate change. Not trying to provide solutions to climate change, my case studies instead offer fertile grounds for elucidating the indiscernible contours, interrelations, and violence that make up this quotidian catastrophe. They do so by employing innovative image technologies and experimental formal strategies, which engender affective encounters with various worlds and entities on screen. In producing novel experiences and modes of relation with a changing Earth new affective epistemologies of climate change can emerge.