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A ‘Golden Spike’ or a Coffin Nail?

Civilization and nature explored in INOVA exhibit

May. 12, 2015
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The geologic time scale of the earth is about four-and-a-half billion years. Scientists mark various spans by developments in the planet’s surface, with strata recording things like ecological changes and mass extinctions. It has been proposed that, given the impact of human life on the Earth, “Anthropocene” could serve as a designation to underscore the intersection of civilization and the environment. A chronological starting point is murky; does it begin with the Mesopotamians or Egyptians, or the Industrial Revolution and the release of chemical concoctions in unprecedented capacities?

As something of a christening ceremony, the International Union of Geological Sciences places a golden spike at a site that exemplifies each geographical epoch. Though the term “Anthropocene” has not yet been formally adopted by the scientific community, the 10 artists and collaborative groups in “Placing the Golden Spike: Landscapes of the Anthropocene,” on view at INOVA, make powerful statements for locales that represent the earth as transformed during the Anthropocene. This concept is a starting point for photographs, videos, installations and collaborations that draw our attention beyond human accomplishments in order to confront unsettling consequences.

Steve Rowell’s video installation Uncanny Sensing (2014) uses the desolate landscapes of Houston’s petrochemical industry as a bleak contender in the Golden Stake sweepstakes. Flying a drone outfitted with a camera, aerial views of oil wells and coastal marshland mark the uneasy invasion of industry into a delicate ecological system. A lone steer munching on a meager patch of grass looks up at the drone and registers confusion, as though speaking on behalf of a nonplussed natural world.

Roderick Coover and Scott Rettberg have put together expansive works titled The Chemical Map (2013) and Toxi-City (2015). As with other artists in the exhibition, documentation becomes part of the artwork; the evidence speaks for itself. Studies of chemical contamination in the Delaware River Estuary and the impact of flooding are considered. More apocalyptic is Toxi-City, a series of written vignettes and video loops where six characters, caught in catastrophic flooding on the Eastern seaboard, recount a nightmarish life in poisoned nature.

“Placing the Golden Spike: Landscapes of the Anthropocene” continues through June 13 at INOVA, 2155 N. Prospect Ave.

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