The AGO Presents: Anthropocene – Revealing the profound impact of humans on the earth

Currently on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is Anthropocene, a massive exhibition that explores how we, as a human race, are leaving our mark on the world. This is an extraordinary collaboration between world-renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, and multiple award-winning filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.


Anthropocene features over 30 large-scale photography, high-res murals, augmented reality installations, and films that all reveal how our technological advances have launched a new geological age (an epoch) and transforming our planet, not necessarily for the better. It’s also worth noting that they have chosen these particular mediums to show the gravity and scope of the topic, as it can’t be fully captured by just screens and prints alone.
The term “Anthropocene” came from the Anthropocene Working Group, a collective of Geologists and Scientists who state that the world has entered a new era where humans have become the single most defining force on the planet.

To offer some perspective, the epoch was the Holocene epoch, when the glaciers receded and ended the ice age.

. Between then and now, the rise of industrialization, acidification of oceans, mining, and species extinction, among other advances have made permanent and irreversible changes on the planet.

On Tuesday, December 4th, Fashion Ecstasy was treated to an exclusive after-hours tour of the exhibition by Sophie Hackett, the Curator of Photography at the AGO. A small group of us were given a brief overview of the presentation and then were led through the various installations, photographs, and films.

The very first film she leads us to was a film of a man walking through a canyon of technofossils (plastic or concrete, humanly created piles of garbage that then formed into a super pile). The canyon was set outside Nairobi, Kenya and will be around for tens of millions of years. Upon seeing the video of a man walking through the canyon with a huge bag of garbage on his back, one cannot help but feel sincere sympathy for him.

We were then led to a photograph of concrete seawalls off the coast of China. Seeing the row of tetrapods all lined in a row was mesmerizing. A photograph of a lithium mine in the Atacama, Chile was particularly striking and had a fascinating story behind it. Atacama, Chile is one of the ideal places for lithium mining because it’s one of the driest, windiest, hottest, and least hospitable places on earth. The aerial view of the lithium mines shows pools of white, yellow, and different shades of green and blue. The different colours represent various stages of lithium evaporation. The actual terrain is covered in jagged salt crystals that can rip car tires to shreds.

One of the more impactful works was the final piece of the collection, an AR sculpture of a tower of elephant tusks. This was a large cube in the center of the room that was covered with pictures of elephant tusks. With the AGO’s own AVARA App, the cube of tusks jumped out and came to life. The sculpture represents the thirteen piles of elephant tusks that were confiscated from poachers in the illegal ivory market. The large-scale installation was meant to showcase the gravity of human activity and greed of the poachers. Behind the facility was a film showing a pile of tusks getting set on fire. The film was based on an actual event in Nairobi, Kenya in 2016 where the most extensive collection of elephant ivory was destroyed in a fire to send a powerful and dramatic statement to the illegal trade of ivory from endangered species.
Anthropocene is a stunning, haunting, yet captivating exhibition that serves as a call to see how our dominance for is shaping and affecting our planet. It will be showing at the AGO until January 6, 2019, and its next stop will be the MAST (Manifattura Arti, Sperimentazione, e Tecnologica) in Bologna, Italy in spring 2019.


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