Maya Kóvskaya

Learning to Drown in the Anthropocene: Climate Change and Cultural Change, Photography, Public Art, and the Politics of Water

The talk will be on the intersection of art, ecological political philosophy, and the Anthropocene, focused on how our shared understandings of water and climate change are refracted through the visual culture of the Anthropocene via mediums such as photography. The Anthropocene thesis posits that we have now left the Holocene era in which a confluence of sanguine planetary conditions enabled our evolution into the dominant species on the planet, and have now created a new geological era, the Anthropocene, or "Age of Man," (man, specifically, because it is still intensely patriarchal) in which human interventions have become the dominant causal force affecting the interconnected life-support systems of the planet on a geological "deep time" scale. In the talk, I examine the role that public art can play in catalyzing social and cultural change by shifting our frame of understanding and creating the bases for affective connections and means to sense what is otherwise insensible, or visualize what is otherwise invisible. Specifically, I look at the visual culture of water in relation to the Anthropocene (glancing off interconnected questions related to climate change, natural disaster, water use pattern change, eco-agriculture and aquacultures, ocean acidification, water pollution, marine and aquatic biodiversity loss and trophic cascades, drought, flood, etc. in relation to the role of public art and photography in shaping our understandings of these issues and our shared and contested cultural imaginations of water in the Anthropocene. I argue that visual culture such as photography can offer a "propositional public space" for both critique and also for articulating new visions and new narratives of what might constitute "justice," and "progress" in ways that locate the human alongside the non-human and the more-thanhuman, within nature rather than outside or over it, which were implied in the sorts of narratives that have gotten us into so much trouble.


Ecological political theorist and curator Maya Kóvskaya (PhD UC Berkeley, 2009) has authored, co-authored, edited, translated, and contributed to many books and articles on contemporary art as it intersects with the political, cultural, and ecological, and she has curated many exhibitions internationally and in India. Most recently she was a commentator and fellow at the HKW and Max Planck Institute for the History of Science organized Anthropocene Campus in Berlin (2014, 2016). Having lectured widely on South and East Asian art, culture, politics, and the Anthropocene at institutions across the world, she has also participated in many discussion panels and conferences. She also taught Writing Ecologies, a critical art writing seminar for the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, in conjunction with the Yamuna-Elbe Public Art program (2011), and was the inaugural Critic-in-Residence for the KHOJ Public Art Ecology Program. She is Art Editor for Positions: Asia Critique (Duke University Press) and is writing a book on Art and the Anthropocene in India. She blogs on art, ecological political theory, and philosophy of science at Mutual Entanglements: Diffractive Notes on Art and the Anthropocene at www.mutualentanglements.com.