Art as a Tool in Times of the Anthropocene?

The debate about “Ecological Art” has gained a new momentum. Only recently, Daniela Hahn and Erika Fischer-Lichte have edited a stimulating book on the subject (see book).

Apparently, one of the major concerns of discourses that relate media and art to ecological thought represents the issue of experience. In a sense, what makes the difference in expressing one’s thoughts about the relationships between humans and other beings? In a similar vain, mass events stir controversial opinions – at least in urban and other highly populated areas – about the importance of entertainment, individual amusement and collective experience to contemporary (Western) societies. The ongoing discussions about the future of large scale events, such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup may serve as proofs for a growing suspicion towards the benefits of entertainment infrastructure.

But, it is not only the conflict about public space that matters here. Taken to the extreme, a critique of mass events may extend to the cultural understandings of individual freedoms attached to the ways entertainment is actually practiced. In the case of the Olympic Park in Munich, people may witness huge fleets of dozers, trucks and other vehicles turning the whole landscape upside down – building artificial heaps of sand and taking the water out of the Park’s lake. Of course: one may respond to this that the Park itself was built by humans for an certain purpose of event, in which later forms of leisure time usage were already engrained, right from the beginning. And yet, the kind we treat such sites of public interest as sceneries for “utopian islands” (see festival in Bavaria) is highly questionable. Has something changed over the last decades? To be frank: yes, I guess. Just look at the very introducing images of the Woodstock Festival Documentary, and you may notice a similar appearance of vehicles driven by people through the agricultural landscape of Bethel with equal enthusiasm; albeit one may also note the predominance of volunteers in 1969, in possible contrast to the highly professionalized entertainment economy of today. And still: speaking for myself, those vehicles don’t matter much to me anymore. Where has the experience of “freedom” gone which might have found its expression or credibility in driving huge trucks to build a festival site from the scratch? Are we doomed to have a closer look at what surrounds us?

Equally, the question arises whether “experience” as such should also change – shifting from events as a door to individual and/or collective experience to a critical experience of living in an age of entanglements.

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