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In Situ Anthropocene

Curatorial statement

Mississippi. An Anthropocene River makes the iconic landscape of the Mississippi River Valley legible as a critical zone of habitation and long-term interaction between humans and the environment. The project is a collaborative learning experiment to understand the river as a composite and storied space—emblematic in the way it grounds the global transition into the Anthropocene, the geological epoch of humankind. Through transdisciplinary field explorations and the production of locally situated conversations, the project contours the complex way in which histories, ecologies, technologies and worldviews collate and collide to shape an entire river system.

Learning from the Landscape

The Anthropocene is an incitement to rethink contemporary conditions of dwelling and living on this planet now that humans have become a decisive force in shaping it. Using the term Anthropocene as a space of contention, this stages critical questions concerning the interdependencies and co-dynamics between earthly processes, human politics, technological systems and the socio-ecological reality produced by these. Transformations abound in these recombinant and sometimes-asymmetrical tensions; often irreversible, these are potentially catastrophic for the multitudinous forms of human and non-human life on Earth.

Within this currently evolving relationship between humans and Earth, trying to determine where “we” as humans are situated within the planetary cycles and systems, who this “we” even is—how this relationship holds together and contains multiple forms of culpability, responsibility, agency and association—can be jarring. At the same time, classical preconceptions of Western thought—the divisions of nature/culture, cause/effect, inside/outside—falter. As the world is shifting, so its knowledge base is becoming entangled in issues of pluralistic meaning, of values, facts and counter-facts, awareness and access. In order to hold ground in such transitory times, novel forms of collaboration and bottom-up research approaches are required if we are to navigate successfully the critical spaces of knowledge formation. In order for understanding to adapt to the conditions of the Anthropocene, genuinely new models and practices of research and education need to be developed, replacing the circulation of outdated categories with the lived experience of connecting the many dots and scales of an Anthropocene world.

Mississippi. An Anthropocene River is a bold, experimental undertaking that tries to negotiate these epistemic demands by learning how to read planetary changes in the local landscape of a vast river system. It seeks to create a new set of knowledge practices through exploration of the Anthropocene in a site-specific manner—identifying a huge industrial and agricultural corridor that cuts through the middle of the United States, which not only represents a highly contested lived reality but also symbolizes the pervasiveness of the human impact. Jointly developed with participants (individuals, groups, institutions) and collaborators from a diversity of backgrounds, disciplines and practices, the project engages with various communities along the Mississippi and their shared concerns, focusing on the Anthropocene shifts as they alter the vast floodplain that this river naturally is. These practices and forms of research result in experimental situations and public conversations; these guide the common, field-oriented framework of analysis, awareness and engagement, which is the overall aim of this project.

A Collective Endeavor

The project is composed of several intermingling components, all of which engage groups of local and international researchers, artists and activists from many disciplines and backgrounds. Since the fall of 2018, five teams have formed around regional Anthropocene River Field Stations while an Anthropocene River School program conducts open seminars and field campus events both on-site and online. Starting in the fall of 2019, an alternating group of students, artists and scholars take an Anthropocene River Journey downriver—from the mythical source of the river near Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico—making intermittent stops at the varied public events organized by the different Field Station teams. Journey participants will also join the weeklong Anthropocene River Campus in New Orleans, which collates the many situated approaches of the project, and focuses on the Mississippi River Delta as a unique site where local and global issues interconnect. All materials and contents of the project are processed and shared through this website; its function is to provide an open research platform to use as both a working tool and a portal to the Anthropocene Curriculum network of which Mississippi. An Anthropocene River is an integral part.

Mississippi. An Anthropocene River is an ambitious task only made possible by the admirable commitment and generosity of numerous individual researchers, artists, activists, institutions and initiatives in the United States, Germany and elsewhere. In particular we would like to thank the funders of this project—the German Federal Foreign Office and their initiative Wunderbar Together, as well as the Max Planck Society—for their trust and support to create something that is bold, new and enduring.

The Berlin Project Team