09 July – 11 September 2022
Underland Chapter 2
CLIMATE OF CONCERN
Bianca Bondi, Julian Charrière, Amalie Jakobsen, Regina de Miguel, Agnieszka Polska, Lisa Rave, Oliver Ressler, Miriam Sentler, Sam Smith
CLIMATE OF CONCERN is the second exhibition of the Underland year program, examining the current over-indebtedness to the fossil fuel industry and mineral extractivism through the work of nine artists.
In 1991, the petrochemical business group Shell released the documentary Climate of Concern, which displayed the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change: increasing drought, extreme weather, floods, crop failures, disappearing islands, and migration. Nevertheless, Shell, alongside other companies such as Exxon and BP, deliberately hid internal reports carried out in the nineteen-eighties that predicted the catastrophic planetary consequences of the increasing emission of carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels extraction. Still to this day, Shell continues to do business as usual by profiting from fossil fuel extraction, actively contributing to climate change. Coal, petroleum, and natural gas have become an inseparable part of all aspects of industrial and energy production, and a substantial part of the technological ‘progress’ in history has been possible through the extraction of such resources. As a consequence, we have become intertwined with fossil memory so much so that there is no single aspect in our lives that is not somehow impacted by the (ab)use of fossil fuels. Everywhere we look there is a manifestation of what philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has called ‘fossil expressionism’: from the buildings we inhabit, the pavement they stand on, and the cars that pass them by, to the clothes we wear or the wrapping of our food; traces of fossil fuels are part of our daily landscape, identity, and existence.
The joint trace-effects of advanced capitalism, technological transformation, and the resulting environmental breakdown are increasingly becoming matters of urgent socio-political changes that transcend humanity and apply to every living organism on the planet. The second chapter of Underland explores how the current over-indebtedness on fossil fuels provides both the framework and the backdrop for our ways of thinking, being, and acting to an untenable regime of ecological collapse. What are ways of abandoning fossil fuel culture and shifting towards sustainable practices of living? How can this Devil’s bargain with non-renewable energy be reversed, and what alternative relationships can be established for a future beyond fossil-based lifestyles?
The all-pervasive use of fossil fuels shapes our thinking, acting, and capacity to relate to things and to one another; artist and author Brett Bloom has coined it petrosubjectivity. Petrosubjectivity is in our food, our healthcare, our means of transport, our clothes, our sex. While conditioning every action and thought we produce, it hinders any attempt to reverse it. This is exemplified in renewable energy, or, what Bloom suggests calling more accurately, ‘fossil fuel dependent energy’. In order to produce windmills and solar panels, huge amounts of waste and emissions are produced. By 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that close to seventy-eight million metric tons of solar panels will have become obsolete, and that the world will be generating about six million metric tons of new solar e-waste per year. Turbine blades, on the other hand, shortly become obsolete, and the energy production in wind farms gradually decrease over time, becoming remnants of ‘green’ alternatives that nevertheless keep on disrupting the landscape and altering biodiversity. That is not to say that individual, more sustainable choices are to be dismissed: it is rather a matter of dismantling the misleading impression of ‘green’ alternatives and products promoted and lobbied by fossil fuel companies in the hypocritical practice of greenwashing.
In the Anthropocene, fossilization does not only occur organically. Humans have substantially modified landscapes through the urbanisation of cities, which will leave behind a fossil record both above—skyscrapers and highways—and below ground—metro and sewage systems. Humans have also altered the streams of rivers, the pH of oceans—causing acidification—and the composition of the atmosphere. All these alterations intervene directly in the geological development of the planet, causing major shifts that could eventually compare to great geological changes that radically transformed life on Earth. Land, conceived as a commodity for human use and enjoyment, is abused for the sake of our current carbon-infused lifestyles.
As writer Robert MacFarlane postulates, the Anthropocene compels us to insert our thinking in ‘deep time’, a time scale that stretches beyond human life and challenges the presumption that the world exists for human profit only, in eternal availability. Fossil fuels are limited, and yet fossil-burning enterprises are keen on making and burning as many new fossils as possible, as quick as possible. Professor Donna Haraway envisions the near future geologists reading our fossils in the strata of rocks both on land and underwater. Yet geologists are currently able to do so, as human waste is already fossilising in plastiglomerates, a composed material made of rock and molten plastic. Despite continuous evidence of fossil culture’s effacing consequences and the thin chances of surviving them, we have little capacity to comprehend how our idea of self, subjecthood, and the world is shaped by oil relationships because of their implicit ubiquity. Making petrosubjectivity explicit stands as a most urgent need to eventually free ourselves from our current dependency to it. How can we prepare on as wide a scope possible for subverting fossil culture? How can we still operate in systems of required extractivism, and what does that entail for our concepts of nature, culture, and ecology? What are the chances of worldly commitments to recognising the urgency to develop alternative logics of existence?
Curated by Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, assisted by Sergi Pera Rusca.
CLIMATE OF CONCERN is made possible with support from Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Mondriaan Fund, Municipality of Delft, FONDS21, The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, BNG Cultuurfonds, Stichting Zabawas, ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Institut français de pays bas.
The work of Julian Charrière is loaned from the Servais Family Collection, and presented in collaboration with Tlön Projects.
The participation of Amalie Jakobsen is additionally supported by the Danish Arts Foundation.