“Freedom in the Anthropocene: Twentieth-Century Helplessness in the Face of Climate Change” with Andony Melathopoulos

Join us on Friday, January 15 for the first of our Winter 2016 series of discussions in the Future in Question lecture series featuring Andony Melathopoulos  from the Natural Sciences Program at the University of Calgary.

Freedom in the Anthropocene: Twentieth-Century Helplessness in the Face of Climate Change

While it is clear that the Holocene/Anthropocene transition marks the unprecedented transformation of human societies, scholars have not been able to account for what this transition entails, how it could give rise to our current ecological predicament, and how we might plausibly move beyond it. Without such an understanding, we are left with an inadequate analysis that creates the condition for ill-informed policy decisions and a self-sustaining cycle of unsuccessful attempts to ameliorate societally induced environmental degradation. The talk will illuminate our current ecological predicament by focusing on the issue of history and freedom and how it relates to our current inability to render environmental threats and degradation recognizable, and by extension, subject to its conscious and free overcoming by society. Working through the writings of three twentieth century critical theorists (Georg Lukács, Theodor W. Adorno, and Moishe Postone), Stoner and Melathopoulos argue that the idea of the Anthropocene is a historically specific reflection of helplessness, which only becomes possible at the close of the twentieth century.


Andony Melathopoulos Biography

Andony Melathopoulos is a postdoctoral scholar in the Natural Sciences Program at the University of Calgary. His research is motivated by our current paradox: ecological degradation continues to accelerate even amid growing environmental attention and concern. How is it that our increasing technical ability to measure this degradation grows in parallel with a seemingly runaway pattern of unsustainability? His current research poses this question against the rapid expansion of pollinator-dependent crops and the problem of wild pollinator conservation in agriculture. He combines traditional environmental science methodologies—field research, pollination ecology, statistical modeling—in parallel with scholarship in the environmental humanities—ecological economics, political economy, and critical social theory. Through relating these two disciplinary areas he has been able to demonstrate how certain environmental science questions (e.g., the value of wild pollinating insects to agricultural output) veil unsustainable social processes behind a set of technical problems. His work in this field has been recognized internationally in journals such as Ecological Economics, in fora such as the International Conference on Global Food Security, and he was recently invited to be an expert reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production for the United Nations.



“The Earth is Not “Ours” to Save: (In)Human Agency and Bewildering Education” with Nathan Snaza

Join us for our next discussion in the series with an exciting talk from scholar and educator Nathan Snaza (University of Richmond). 

Friday, November 20, 12-1 PM (+)

Arts-Based Research Studio (Education North 4-104)

The Earth is Not “Ours” to Save: (In)Human Agency and Bewildering Education

The anthropocene names the epoch of Earth’s history in which the human has become a geological actor. Much of the contemporary discourse around environmentalism and climate change calls for humans to act in particular ways to avoid a catastrophe in an imagined future. My point of departure in this talk will be this simple claim: that thinking human action can avert climate-related catastrophe is a re-assertion of the human’s status as geological actant. Yet the earth is not “ours,” even to save. What is needed, then, is a way of letting go of the human’s dominion in the world, which is inseparable from a shift in how “agency” is understood. Turning to posthumanism and feminist/queer theory, I offer a “bewildering education” that turns away from being “human” in the dominant key and instead seeks a new political discourse that acknowledges animate and inanimate agencies. This political engagement or entanglement is always already there, but Western, colonialist humanism has produced a mode of education that disattunes us from it. Bewildering education is then a pedagogics of attunement, of learning to affect and be affected differently. We need a way out, not of ecological catastrophe (that we might learn to affirm), but out of the anthropocene. 

Image Source: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/man-made-ecological-catastrophe-more-half-all-earth%E2%80%99s-11446
Image Source: http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/man-made-ecological-catastrophe-more-half-all-earth%E2%80%99s-11446

Nathan Snaza Biography

Nathan Snaza teaches modern and contemporary literature, literary and gender theory, and educational foundations at the University of Richmond. He is the co-editor of Posthumanism and Educational Research (Routledge, 2014) and Pedagogical Matters: New Materialism and Curriculum Studies (Peter Lang, forthcoming). His essays have appeared in journals such as Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, Angelaki, Symploke, Cultural Critique, and Educational Researcher.


We are excited to welcome Mia Feuer as our next speaker in the series. Mia is Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the California College of the Arts and will be discussing her recent work and investigations in relation to ‘totems of the anthropocene’. Check out more of Mia’s artistic work here.

Friday, October 30, 2015; 12-1 PM
Arts-Based Research Studio (Education North 4-104)
Free and Open to All!

Mia Feuer in her petroleum skating rink at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Photo: Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper (Photo from http://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2013/11/01/trashing-up-north/)
Mia Feuer in her petroleum skating rink at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Photo: Darrow Montgomery/Washington City Paper. (Photo Source: http://landscapearchitecturemagazine.org/2013/11/01/trashing-up-north/)


Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Mia received her BFA from the University of Manitoba in 2004 and her MFA in 2009 from the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Mia has received numerous travel, research, production and creation grants from the Manitoba Arts Council;  the Winnipeg Arts Council; The Canada Council for the Arts and The Lila Acheson Readers Digest Foundation.  In 2007, with the support of The Winnipeg Arts Council, she traveled to Palestine to facilitate sculptural research and workshops in the West Bank with Palestinian children.  Since then, Mia received several fellowships including: Vermont Studio Center; Seven Below Arts Initiative, The Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts, The Millay Colony, The Macdowell Colony; The Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and Sculpture Space.  Mia Feuer was a 2011 District of Columbia Center for the Arts and Humanities fellow as well as won the 2011 Trawick Prize and in 2012  received the prestigious Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts.  She conducted sculptural research in Egypt during the 2011 Revolution and in 2012 and 2013, Mia gained unprecedented access to the Alberta Tar Sands of Fort McMurray to conduct Sculptural research. In 2013, Mia participated in an Arts and Science expedition to the Arctic Circle and in 2014, she was a visiting artist at The Banff Centre during the thematic residency titled: Making. Solo Exhibitions include FLUXspace, Philadelphia, PA, Transformer Gallery, Washington DC, Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, VA, The Firehouse Gallery, Burlington, VT, The Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center, Atlanta, GA, CONNERSMITH Gallery, Washington, DC, Goodyear Gallery in Carslile, PA, RAW: Gallery of Architecture and Design, Winnipeg, Manitoba, The Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC and  University of Mary Washington Gallery in Fredericksburg VA. Mia created and curated The free Flooded Lecture Series which took place on the Anacostia River in fall 2014 in Washington DC.  Recently, Mia has been conducting Sculptural research in the devastated bayous of the Gulf Coast and is currently developing projects with federally unrecognized Indigenous Pointe au Chien and Isle de Jean Charles communities.  Recent exhibitions include Synthetic Seasons at  The Esker Foundation in Calgary, Alberta  and Mesh  at Locust Projects in Miami FL..  Mia was  artist in residence at the Va Space Residency in Isfahan, Iran this passed July and will be artist in residence at The Gulkistan Residency in Laugarvatni, Iceland in 2016.  Future Exhibitions include Champagne Life at The Saatchi Gallery in London, UK and will represent Locust Projects this December at NADA, Miami.  Mia lives and works in Oakland, CA where she is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture  at California College of the Arts.  

“Anthropocene Cinema” with Selmin Kara

Join us Friday, October 9, 2015 for the next instalment of ‘The Future in Question’ Speaker Series with Selmin Kara from the Ontario College of Art and Design.

“Anthropocene Cinema”

Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller Gravity (2013) introduced to the big screen a quintessentially 21st-century villain: space debris. The spectacle of high-velocity 3D detritus raging past terror-struck, puny-looking astronauts stranded in space turned the Earth’s orbit into not only a site of horror but also a wasteland of hyperobjects, with discarded electronics and satellite parts threatening everything that lies in the path of their ballistic whirl. In the same year, techno-industrial waste made another center-stage appearance in South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho’s international sci-fi film Snowpiercer (2013), this time as an anarchic agent of revolution. Snowpiercer depicts the class struggles among the survivors of an accidental ice age triggered by a human experiment aimed at counteracting global warming, but which left the remnants of humanity confined to the claustrophobic space of a train ceaselessly circling the globe. The cruelty of the technofixes put in effect in order to maintain the carefully bio-engineered mini-ecosystem on board the train eventually lead to a revolt. The revolutionary cause calls for extreme measures, thus prompting one of the main characters to fashion a bomb out of the highly addictive and also highly combustible drug Kronol, which is made of industrial waste. The bomb annihilates (almost) everyone aboard the train – which is to say: nearly all of humanity.

In her talk, Selmin Kara uses these two films’ fantasies of waste as an entry point to talk about the emerging Anthropocene imaginary in cinema. More specifically, she argues that we can now speak of a cinema of the anthropocene, which is as much a product of new filmic technologies in post-cinema as the conditions of global capitalism that have sped up the catastrophic impacts of human geo-engineering.

Still image from Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller Gravity (2013).
Still image from Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller Gravity (2013).

Bio: Selmin Kara is an Assistant Professor of Film and New Media at OCAD University. She has critical interests in digital aesthetics and tropes related to the anthropocene and extinction in cinema as well as the use of sound and new technologies in contemporary documentary. Selmin is the co-editor of Contemporary Documentary and her work has also appeared and is forthcoming in Studies in Documentary FilmPoiesis, the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Image in Digital Media, Music and Sound in Nonfiction Film, Post-Cinema, and The Philosophy of Documentary Film.

Selmin Kara
Selmin Kara

Vibrations of the Imperceptible: Citizen Science, Big Data, and Bioacoustics

Join us for our next discussion on Friday, October 2 with Mickey Vallee from the University of Lethbridge.

This presentation looks at the relationship between philosophies of the Anthropocene, citizen science, and big data within the context of bioacoustics research. Bioacoustics has traditionally been a branch of science that isolates, records, and monitors sounds emitted from living organisms that are usually imperceptible to normal human hearing. From within the scientific community, bioacoustics has been a cost-effective means to monitor longterm changes in biodiversity. Currently, the increasing availability of recording technologies is expanding the work of bioacoustics data collection, incorporating hobbyist sound collectors who record sounds for scientific databases, as well as for more expanded purposes in culture and the arts. This expanding network of data collectors marks an important shift for the future of the earth, since vast, limitless, and global research teams will be needed to accrue data that appropriately represents the massive forces of ecological change. This new “crowdsourcing methodology” for data collection persists especially in online sonic preservation archives that rely greatly on the new “citizen scientists” to gather data for analysis.  Sound recording technologies (binaural sound recorders, ultrasonic transducers, hydrophonic devices, and many others) open new doors for (1) environmental monitoring, (2) citizen research and (3) big data. In the presentation, I propose that this move towards objectively captured subjective experience connects deeply with the current assemblages of human, non-human, more-than-human, and post-human actors that characterize philosophies of the Anthropocene.


Mickey Vallee is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge.  His research focuses broadly on intersections between sound, subjectivity, technology, and the politics of social change in the context of contemporary social problems.

Mapping a Hard Rain: Visuality and the Present with Brad Necyk

Our first conversation in the series will take place on September 25 (12-1pm) with artist and scholar Brad Necyk. mark your calendars! Check out more of Brad Necyk’s work by visiting his website.

Image by Brad Necyk from the series 'Just a Hard Rain'
Image by Brad Necyk from the series ‘Just a Hard Rain’

Brad Necyk received his MFA at the University of Alberta and is working through the mediums of photography, video, film and performance. He currently is the Artist in Residence with the Friends of the University Hospitals and Transplant Services Alberta Health Services for the length of 2015 and is a Master of Science candidate in Psychiatry. His current work focuses on ethnography, psychiatry, pharmaceutics and biopolitics. His other current work has been looking at ecology with a focus on specific objects within an ecosystem (plutonium-239, Junk DNA, viruses, Turing Tests, holograms) as strategic modes for engaging in artistic reproduction, mutations and revolt.  He has been shown around Canada, an artist in the 2015 Alberta Biennial, participated in artists’ residencies, delivered academic papers internationally, is a Scholar in the Integrative Health Institute at the University of Alberta and is currently teaching a number of senior level courses in Drawing and Intermedia at the University of Alberta.