ANTHROPOCENE | 2015 - ONGOING

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The ability of Humankind to generate and harness electricity has precipitated the Anthropocene era, a period in which human activity is altering the planet on a geologic scale. Yet, despite our dependence on electricity, electronic devices are fragile and data artifacts are difficult to archive. Modern civilization is frighteningly vulnerable. A collapse of the grid would destroy society as we know it, ending access to tools that support our way of life. Unlike mechanical instruments, which can persist for millennia and leave material evidence of their functionality, electronic tools are highly degradable, often irreparable, and useless without an appropriate power supply. The design and manufacture of modern electronics are impossible without a team of trained engineers, access to specialized machinery, and a source of rare minerals. Existing computers, including hard drives for data storage, are made from fragile components that deteriorate into utterly mysterious objects.

Author Arthur C. Clarke writes that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Ancient history is full of fantastic tales such as the Hindu Vedas, Atlantis, and the Egyptian Hall of Records. In the absence of physical evidence, it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Stories are lost, fragmented, and modified over time. We know that a widespread collapse of Bronze Age civilization destroyed the Mycenaeans and precipitated the Greek Dark Ages. The Library of Alexandria was allegedly burned, losing incalculable knowledge. The Catholic church destroyed unknown numbers of manuscripts during the Inquisition. If history predicts the future, then some form of catastrophe will inevitably strike Anthropocene civilization. Centuries from now, what will remain of our identity and achievements? Experiences that are familiar today, such as listening to the radio or looking at a computer screen, may be alien within hundreds (let alone thousands) of years. Citizens of the early Anthropocene era have become so accustomed to electronic devices and their behaviors, many have forgotten the human ingenuity that enables these “magical” effects. Artists and archivists share the burden to document the story behind electronic magic, to distinguish our cultural legacy from imaginary legend.

For many people living today, electricity has become essential to physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. It is hard to imagine daily life without electricity and its products. Arguably, the Anthropocene era would have not occurred without without the illuminating, computing, communicating, labor-saving and life-extending devices powered by electricity. Our independence from nature is unmatched in human history. The quality of life and lifespan in modernized societies are extraordinary. Our sense of self is enriched and diluted by exposure to data from all over the world. Complex supply chains support a global marketplace. Digital information appears and vanishes instantaneously in geologic terms, yet is capable of inciting long-term changes for all the life and landscape of Earth.

Humans have invented incredible technologies and even altered our planet; yet, our cycle of birth and death continues relatively unchanged. Born animated and intelligent, biological creatures have a finite lifespan that inspires both wonderment and existential crisis. Whether electronic devices can be considered truly “alive” is subject to debate, but humans do assign lifelike metaphors for active versus non-functioning machines. Increasingly intelligent computers raise interesting questions about the ethics of technology. I make art about the flow of electricity that gives forth life, whether natural or manmade, and shapes a mortal experience. I encourage my audience to see the philosophical dimensions of electricity: its role as the spark of life, the synapses of consciousness, and the medium that empowers our current culture.