Understanding the (Mis)anthropocene
Time is categorised by geologists within different epochs, demarcated by dramatic transformations evident in global strata formation. Recent global environmental changes causing a sustained, irreversible impact on the Earth and its inhabitants suggest that we may have entered a new human-dominated geological epoch, leaving the Holocene and entering the Anthropocene.
Establishing the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch has demanded increasing academic and popular attention over the past 20 years. The Anthropocene may have started in the 0001940s, it may be traced to the cultural development of fire, domestication of plants and animals, expansion of agriculture, deforestation, capitalism, slavery, imperialism, the Industrial Revolution, globalisation, production of greenhouse gases, the Great Acceleration, human produced radioactive isotopes, anthropogenic global warming, technofossils, and more.
Unlike all other geological epochs, the Anthropocene is a geological thought experiment that looks back from a post-apocalypse future that collapses the future into the past, as a contemporary reiteration of the standard apocalypse narrative. Accepting that the future disaster is inevitable and mourning the lost future is part of the Anthropocene.
The Misanthropocene can be characterised by rapid human-made irreversible alterations in climate and the global depletion of resources that are likely to cause catastrophic effects for all life on Earth. It announces a geological apocalypse anticipated by many long standing anxieties about unstable and uncertain futures, a cautionary tale of its own making, used to make sense of the calamity we find ourselves in. This is the human history of living within the Misanthropocene, implicated in living on an endangered, hospitalised, damaged planet that can no longer sustain human futures. The loss of all human stories unrecognisable in the evidence that is speculated upon, in a past that is unknowable in the consequences of this unrealisable future.
Past, present, future
This exhibition features a selection of objects that have travelled back to us from different future worlds that engage with critical debates and possible outcomes of the Misanthropocene. These objects are interpreted in the exhibition text panels and exhibit labels by a diverse range of ‘curators’ (past, present, and future, human & non-human inhabitants of the featured worlds), which reveal contradictory descriptions about objects and the future worlds that they inhabit.
The pluriversity of curatorial perspectives reveal the trans-temporal Misunderstandings that occur in the translation between worlds. This raises concerns about the stability of the speculative pasts authorised by museums in a dialogue with the reality of our speculations about the future. The validity of the museum, and the curatorial authority over the production of authentic narratives about the past, is challenged in a post-truth world.
Which Misinterpretation of the objects of the Misanthropocene can we trust?
Which unconvincing truth most matches your interests and values?
Interactive world line of the (Mis)anthropocene
Some events in Anthropogenesis
Hover over the dates to find out more
For the best experience, please view the world line on PC browsers
4 million years ago
Earliest surviving fossil of a human being
Earliest archaeological evidence of human-made tools
2 million years ago
Origins of agriculture
11,000 years ago
The 'Orbis spike' detected
A notable decline in CO2 in the atmosphere at the Antarctic ice cores
Caused by the decimation of indigenous populations (80-95%) in the Americas
The Industrial Revolution
Powered by the burning of fossil fuels
The First World War
The Second World War
leading to the 'baby boom' of the following years
Testing of the first atomic bomb
The 'Trinity' at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
The geochemical residue of this, etched into our geological landscape, announces the beginning of the Global Standard Stratographic Age.
Beginning of the Holocene (our present geological epoch)
at the end of the last Ice Age
12,000 years ago
African slaves put to work on sugar plantations
on Madeira, Portugal, causing forced relocation from their homelands and large-scale replantation of ecologies
Colonisation of the Americas
Mass-genocide of indigenous populations
Largest human population replacement in recent history
Conflation of previously separate agricultural biotas, such as grains and livestock
Christopher Columbus makes first two expeditions to the 'New World' in the Caribbean
On the second trip, Columbus initiates the first transatlantic slave transfer from Hispaniola to Spain
First voyage of Native American slaves to Europe
Slaves systematically transported from Africa to the 'New World"
The first steam engine is introduced
by Thomas Newcomen
The steam engine is introduced commercially
by James Watt, initiating their widespread use in industry
First global population spike: 1 billion
Britain abolish slavery in the Caribbean
Resulting £20m taxpayer payout largely used for building industry (railways, mines and factories) and the imperial infrastructure of Britain and its colonial outposts.
Abolition was thus incentivised by the financial gain of industrialised society rather than ethical reasons.
American Civil War, leading to the abolition of slavery in the United States
This was largely a war between the rapidly industrialising North, moving away from slavery to the use of machinery and fossil fuels; and the agricultural South, who still depended on slave labour for their income.
Again, abolition was an economic, rather than ethical, political move, establishing the U.S. as an industrial superpower.
Second global population spike: 2 billion
Widespread rice cultivation
5,000 years ago
Fifth global population spike: 5 billion
Seventh global population spike: 7 billion
Objects of the Misanthropocene: Insouciant Artefacts from the Museums of Beyond exhibition
The 'Great Acceleration'
Population growth explodes
Life expectancy increases
Resources of finite ecosystems are diminished
The balance of geochemical materials on the earth's surface shifts
New geological substances and forces are introduced to the environment
Material conversion of fossil fuels
Worldwide dissemination of black carbon (synthetic particles) in the atmosphere
New geochemical compounds: polyaromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticide residues
New materials are introduced
Plastics, aluminium, concrete, synthetic fibres
Widespread mechanised agriculture
Beginning of 'nuclear colonialism'
poisoning the environment
Doubling of soil nitrogen and phosphorous levels
due to the artificial production of nitrogen fertiliser
Third global population spike: 3 billion
Fourth global population spike: 4 billion
Sixth global population spike: 6 billion
Inauguration of the Illegal Museum of Beyond and its Accredited Illegal Museum status
Made possible by a small enterprise grant from the HLF and the generosity of the National Lottery players of UK. The grant funds were invested with The Bank of Geneva (Tangiers), in a high return, low tax offshore, Ponzi scheme, and the gains wagered on several high profile sporting shocks (for which the results were well remembered at the time). By 0002235, the bicentenary of the Museum, the capital appreciation of these funds was so great that a huge expansion scheme was possible to propel the museum into the future and ensure that its staff were amongst the best paid public sector employees, and that its ideas, collections, exhibits and facilities remain at the cutting edges of the Anthropocene until the end of time.
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