Anthropocene is a startling portrait of climate change

Film and photography project hits the Screening Room, highlights severity of human impact on the planet

Anthropocene examines the impacts of humans on the Earth.

When you think of shrinking ice caps and devastated coral reefs, an art project isn’t the first thing that pops into your head.

Anthropocene might change your mind. It’s a recent exhibit running at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario with a movie accompaniment screening across the country—including Nov. 3 and 8 at the Screening Room in Kingston.

Anthropocene is a multi-media project from film and photo artists Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwa, and Nick de Pencier. They use their art to promote scientists across the globe working to change the name of the current geological age of the Holocene—which includes a stable climate—to the Anthropocene, defined by humanity’s impact on the climate.

The scientists and artists argue this profound impact on Earth has changed the planet’s natural processes more than all its other forces combined.

“Climate change, extinctions, invasive species, technofossils, anthroturbation, terraforming of land, and redirection of water are all part of the indelible human signature,” the Anthropocene website said of the changing name.

It’s a powerful exhibit with an important message, and it showcases the power of art in pushing for progressive societal change.

Using film and photography, Anthropocene gives its audience an unflinchingly honest account of the scale of damage that has been done to our planet.

Large-scale, planetary devastation is evident in the images on display. Tailings ponds go on for miles in the oil sands, and mining is seen ruining mountains in places like Peru.

The damage to human life is clear as the film captures small children climbing on massive piles of garbage. In the documentary, it’s poor people who are first to be affected by such wide-scale devastation. It’s impossible to watch it without feeling accountable for the damage—which is central to the point of the project.

Anthropocene holds its audience accountable for this damage, saying that if anything is to be done humans have to change how we interact with our environment.

The photos, while aesthetically beautiful, are terrifying. They’re meant to make people aware of rapid change and push them towards action.

The project is meant to raise awareness and wake people up.

“It is such a fundamental change in the way the earth is behaving that we need to communicate that as powerfully as possible, to everybody,” says one narrator in the film.

The project is powerful to say the least, and that’s probably why it’s the first exhibit to ever be jointly presented at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario. It’s a pressing issue and its content should be as widely distributed as possible.

The exhibit comes at an appropriate time as well, with the United Nations recently releasing a report warning we only have 12 years left to limit the catastrophic effects of global climate change.

Anthropocene’s conclusion is simple: meaningful, wide-scale climate action is a necessary and unavoidable step.

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