#9: Dreaming the Anthropocene
An Allegory by Eliza Burke, on Anthropocene Noir
Erin Linhart, Lola Page, Emily Parsons-Lord, Dexter Rosengrave, Elissa Wilson
Curated by Eva Nilssen for the 2019 Curatorial Mentorship Program
We know the war is about to begin because the birds have come to ground. They are new citizens of our abandoned city, picking their way through the ash and debris, scouting for leaders, walking around like men. We move amongst them, forgetting they don’t see or hear us, forgetting it was us who made the deal. We are the dreamers, foreign to this new avian territory, this new order of things. We come burdened by our old history and knowledges, still waiting for the bombing, unable to wake.
On the ground in the thousands, peacocks are being eaten alive by hawks, their vivid breasts torn and scattered across the asphalt. Smaller birds huddle and muster in the laneways, trading feathers for secrets, sleeping in doorways with their young. Bats have crash-landed in the gutters and stairwells, suffering burst lungs and broken wings. Only the gulls seem aware of our presence, transgressing the memory lines. Veterans of the discarded, they work in teams to sort the weeds from the trash, navigating us cautiously, loitering, heckling, bargaining for food.
This mass flocking is a sign of lost signals. Coming to ground, the birds find a way to navigate the calamity of human force, the defects in the atmosphere. Changes in air pressure have changed their language, forged uncertain flight paths. Their calls are soundless now, too low for us to hear amidst the sonic hum. No-one knows how long the birds stay grounded. No-one ever knows how long the war will last.
We walk towards the hill where dead fish have collected at the river’s source, their flesh turned white by recent shocks. Someone struggling with grief has attempted to revive them, breathe life into their mouths, restore the equilibrium. We’ve heard the river sickness can breed this kind of solastalgia, a longing for home when one is still at home, a melancholy for the earth felt deep in the body . She will return to try again, using first aid as her ritual, desperate for response.
We follow steep tracks through clear-felled zones, our boots slipping on the shingle. With each step we hear pebbles rattle inside the hill, hard water cutting caves beneath our feet. Around us, tree stumps choke, crackle, hiss and howl as we climb higher through the heat. Canals have been dug and abandoned, the smell of loam and peat and blood rises from the hot beds where wounded pigs snuffle and grunt, taunted by packs of dogs. Sometimes the dogs toss a pig for fun, sometimes they wait for one to fall before descending to the coal pit to feed. The dogs follow each other endlessly, fighting as their hunger fights, multiplying as their amnesia multiplies – fucking, tearing, dragging, feasting, fouling – repeat.
It’s not as though we are new to this world, we are the children of ‘twenty centuries of stony sleep…vexed to nightmare’ , we are the troubled meek. We can no longer tell the difference between human weapons and natural disaster, distress and survival, but we do not arrive on the plateau empty-handed. We bring knowledge of how to tame the weak with violence, how to create famine with greed, how to bury the past through conquest. But we also know that when the present is cut or torn or broken, the future will leak out like a jewel. And in the midst of all this trouble, we are not afraid to admit that we have never been more scared of being alive.
In the open field, a farm house bleeds dim light into the fog, a dull ember agitating the gloom. Men in the courtyard amuse themselves with Russian roulette, the old game, each turn of the cylinder failing to fire, a grand impotence revealed by chance. In the kitchen, women deliver fully grown children onto tables, one after the other, a flood of long-term pregnancies, some living, some dead. It doesn’t matter to them that the children belong to us, and that we have come to collect them. They are the midwives of this new chronology heaving against the weight of millenia, we have no choice but to watch and listen and wait.
From here, we look onto a field as sparse as it is wide, its yield faint and indifferent to our vision. All we can see is how our fear has changed us, and how it is not the war that threatens us, but this chronic state of living, this gradual unwinding of spirit and time. We know the sniper awaits her shot from the barn and that our lives are but objects on her map. And we know that when the time comes, we will face her and move through this atmosphere to another. We may even get the chance to wake.
See Albrecht, G. (2005) ‘’Solastalgia’. A New Concept in Health and Identity’ PAN: Philosophy Activism Nature, (3), 41.
Yeats, W.B (1919) ‘The Second Coming’ in W.B Yeats Selected Poetry Pan Books, London, 1990, 99-100.
Anthropocene Noir exhibited at Contemporary Art Tasmania 4 May – 26 May 2019.
Eliza Burke is an independent curator and writer based in Hobart. Her work explores the creative potential of hybrid and collaborative forms across the arts and sciences, with a particular interest in hauntology and new materialities. She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies and an MFA in Art Theory, and has held a variety of project coordination, research and teaching roles across the arts, social sciences, health and education sectors. Her writing includes critical essays and articles, exhibition reviews and poetry in academic and non-academic publications. She currently works in a cross-disciplinary capacity in the Arts and Health faculties at the University of Tasmania.
JOURNAL is edited by CAT Engagement Co-ordinator, Lisa Campbell-Smith.
The project commissions writers to create new text-based works that engage with the CAT exhibition program. The platform provides an opportunity for writers to develop work outside the structures of critique and criticism prevalent in art writing.