by Georgia Preece
Distance: a false construct that exists between humanity and nature.
We operate in a time where man has disconnected himself from his origin, covering his eyes to the current effects of climate breakdown. It is easier to cope with everyday stress, when the earth you perceive to be safe isn’t crumbling beneath your feet. But where does this leave us when we are faced with an imminent ecological disaster? We fantasise over cosmic distance, but construct false separations between man and earth. Can artistic responses, such as the contemporary sublime, help us to reimagine the conversation?
The ultimate sublime, the cosmos: with enough distance separating us, we allow its beauty to outweigh our fear of its unfamiliarity. Swapping terror for curiosity, we fetishize segregation, pushing to break down the distance and get a closer glimpse of inexplicable worlds beyond our own. The films we watch and the art we consume reflect this, situating us within the unreachable, before returning us to earth: a safe place, one that we presume to understand.
Only the constructed distance we impose between humanity and earth allows us to do this. We mirror the distance that exists between earth and the wider universe. Phrases like ‘getting back to nature’ imply that nature is an ideal to which we are able to return. It implies we ever left; as if we outgrew it and moved on. But nature seeps through our skin and flows through our lungs.
We imagine the facades of grey cities as progress from the dirt beneath our feet. But nature still consumes us. It negates our routines and dictates our moods. We are surrounded by nature, we are nature.
It is the role of artists to deconstruct this false distance, to close the gap between the constructed image of an archaic natural world, and the ideology of civilised humanity. We must dismantle the hierarchy of ego over eco, which places man above non-human animals, and slides climate breakdown into a timeline of future problems for distant generations.
If artists can construct a vicarious experience of ecology that doesn’t feel archaic, then progression towards a cleaner earth won’t feel like a step in the wrong direction. How can art be used to decentralise man, and situate our current state of climate breakdown within the framework of the contemporary sublime?
The contemporary sublime situates itself firmly within the Anthropocene. The complex relationship between terrifying and beautiful, which the sublime is built upon, is grounded within the imminent threat of climate breakdown, and the knowledge that we are the catalyst of the terror confronting us.
The contemporary sublime is not art for escapism, it is a wake up call.
In 2366 (2018, Aluminium) I explore the contemporary sublime in the form of oil rigs/platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Each footprint of oil removal is mapped out with holes drilled into aluminium, and at first glance you might be forgiven for overlooking the sinister nature of its context.
There is a beauty to it: the holes flow across the sheet like a murmuration of starlings, the metal warps and carries light from around the room. However the reality of each mark is terrifying, each hole drilled into the aluminium represents a unique stain on the earth. Knowing this shifts the conversation to the current epoch; closing the distance between man and nature, returning us to the reality of the Anthropocene.