Envisioning at the Moraine, Amanda Boetzkes

This workshop has taken more than two years to become what it is today: a small gathering of people who are envisioning ice across disciplines and cultural backgrounds, at the axis of a planetary ontology and a global epistemology of climate crisis. From its inception, I’ve wanted this workshop to “dedramatize” the issue of climate crisis, even if this is the most urgent of conditions. This is a difficult endeavour given that my own theoretical investment is in considering planetary and disciplinary forms of expression. In other words, I’m interested in the conditions for, and forms of, planetary expressivity, and how these entangle culturally. But at the very same time, I’m seeking to dedramatize political and subjective panic in order to do so.  

The Greenland Ice Sheet: The Greenland Ice Sheet is our object of study, but also our medium and avenue into thinking about climate change and its political ecology. Its condition is the basis for scientific predictions and perspectives. It is an elemental basis that structures and shapes the lives and histories of Greenlanders and other circumpolar Inuit. It is a resource that positions Greenland for several forms of economic development (mining as well as hydrological commodities). It is determining of the ethos of our cultural and materialist atmosphere on the global stage. I now think of the Greenland Ice Sheet as a planetary actant as well as the mobile and expressive ground on which to think through global movements of money, energy, resources, aesthetic orientations, knowledge and experience. 

The Moraine: But in exactly these terms—because the Ice Sheet is what it is, and because it is not a world picture of climate change per se—I wanted to give this workshop a basic position; to situate our inquiry in a way that valences its theoretical and planetary implications coextensively. Thus, we are at the moraine, at the site of the withdrawal of glacier ice. I’ve come to think of this withdrawal in several ways. Withdrawal is the literal recession of the Ice Sheet further up the fjords as it melts; as it withdraws, it reveals something of the magnitude of geological forces that exert themselves in the lively expansion and retraction of glacier ice, both under presumably “normal” conditions, and under the accelerated melt caused by global warming. It is here that withdrawal connects to ontology – the idea that the essence of the object is fundamentally withdrawn but inferred by an aesthetic play of appearances; appearances which in turn might transform our understanding of expression itself. Moraine is the site at which the struggle across ontological entities and differing epistemologies can be articulated.

Envisioning: This workshop is itself a procedure of envisioning. Even if the rationale is to have a dialogue across knowledge bases and across cultures and at the site, the operation is one of intervening on existing visions of climate change and effectively producing if not an image, then a mode of envisioning. That is, the contact between epistemological perspectives can be its own diffracting force by which to embrace more complete, complex, and dynamic views of Greenland, the Ice Sheet, the planetary condition and how these commingle with our lives.

Amanda Boetzkes is Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory at the University of Guelph, Canada. Her research focuses on the intersection of artistic practices with the life sciences and global systems of energy use. She is the author of Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste (MIT Press, 2019) and The Ethics of Earth Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), and co-editor of Heidegger and the Work of Art History (Ashgate, 2014). She has published in the journals Postmodern CultureArt JournalArt HistoryReconstruction: Studies in Contemporary CultureAntennae: The Journal of Nature and Visual Culture; and Eflux among others. Recent book chapters appear in Materialism and the Critique of Energy (MCM’, 2018); Petrocultures: OilEnergy, Culture (McGill-Queen’s Press, 2017); Fueling Culture: 101 Words for Energy and Environment (Fordham University Press, 2016); The Edinburgh Companion for Animal Studies (Edinburgh University Press, 2017); and Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Politics, Aesthetics, Environments and Epistemologies (Open Humanities Press, 2015). Her current project, Ecologicity, Vision and Art for a World to Come considers modes of visualizing environments with a special focus on the circumpolar North.