Art for the Anthropocene Era

by Eleanor Heartney

Reposted from


It can be hard to shake a sense of imminent eco-doom. Or is there room for “dark optimism,” as the eco-themed initiative Expo 1: New York at MoMA PS1, in Queens, last summer styled it? The UN report contains recommendations for international emissions caps and other cooperative measures, but in a world riven by economic, religious, cultural and military strife, that prescription seems unrealistic. What, if anything, can be done?

Against this backdrop of an increasingly endangered planet, eco art gains new relevance, as artists dare to tread where scientists, politicians, environmentalists and other specialists do not. These artists’ work centers on the recognition that we have entered into the “Anthropocene”—a new geologic era marked by the impact of human activity on the earth. Working in a variety of modes, ranging from critique to practical demonstrations and shading into other current tendencies like social practice, relational aesthetics, environmental activism and systems theory, eco artists express the hope that art can point the way to a more ecologically sustainable future.


What seems clear is that projects like these harness the power of art, including its tendency toward metaphor and verbal/visual play, its resistance to received ideas and its willingness to colonize new areas of knowledge, to persuade us to think differently about our relationship to the environment. They suggest that with a more proactive approach to environmental concerns, the posthuman era need not signal the end of human life as we know it. Instead, the Anthropocene might provide a new beginning for all the partners in the health of the planet.

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