Urban Ecologies

E-Werk, Freiburg, 2022
Curated by Heidi Brunnschweiler

17.9 – So 7.11.2021


In their 2018 book The Human Planet, How We Created the Anthropocene,1climatologists Simon L. Lewis and Marc A. Maslin examine how humans have influenced living conditions on Earth since the emergence of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and the subsequent development of an increasingly complex civilisation. They argue that human activities since the beginning of the early modern period2have become a geological force that fundamentally changed planetary living conditions. With the industrial revolution, the use of fossil fuels, exponential population growth and the global capitalist consumer society men’s intervention on the planet and exploitation of resources have increased ad infinitum. This recent period, also known as the Age of the Anthropocene,3marks for the authors "a turning point in the history of humanity, in the history of life, and in the history of the Earth itself."4They ask whether humans are a special species that can continue to evolve and grow despite depleted resources, destroyed or overpopulated habitats? Especially since other species are limited by the consumption of their natural resources.5

Discussions about the Anthropocene are followed by a redefinition of the relationship between humans and the environment. As Bruno Latour and others point out, Western thought and action have long been hierarchically structured and characterized by mutually exclusive opposites, so that humans and the environment, untouched nature and human civilization, culture and nature were seen as opposites. Humans were considered the crown of creation, legitimized to exploit and dominate the earth. This hierarchical model has been replaced in the last 20 years by a relational human-environment understanding. In this, humans and the environment are understood as equal actors in interacting networks.Through this relational thinking, the concept of ecology has become important in the recent philosophical and art-scientific discussion. Ecology means the "totality of the interrelationships between living beings and their environment".6Thus, the US American scholar Timothy Morton uses the term ecology to outline an environmental theory from the point of view of the interconnectedness of nature and civilization.7He drops the notion that nature sustains civilization, but exists as something that is external to society. Ecological thinking, for him, replaces thinking in oppositions and hierarchies, with a "thinking of interconnectedness of all living and non-living things".8Ecological thinking means abandoning the desire for conceptual domination of nature and recognizing that humans exist in a global and local environment that includes non-human species, landforms and geological processes.Ecological thinking is also central for the art historian T.J. Demos. In his book Beyond the World's End,9published in 2020, he criticizes the majority of so-called conventional eco-art for operating apolitically. While this art strives to depict the non-human realm, it ignores the social aspects of the ecological discussion such as “climate injustice, cross-species thriving, and a decolonized future of ecological sustainability”.10With his notion of "creative ecologies", Demos expands ecological thinking to include these social dimensions. He refers to creative ecologies as practices that "create new meaningful materializations and connections (aesthetic, practical, rights-generating in nature) between otherwise separate realms of experience and knowledge” to cultivate future more just worlds."11For Demos certain artistic practices are models of creative ecologies. Because they are able to "combine speculative imagination with the material practice of life, they can, in the sense of creative ecologies, not only critically name interconnections, or problem areas that threaten our existence,” but also shape the world in a politically more just ways".12With his works Komitski addresses multiple processes of transformation and cycles that characterize the Anthropocene. In Superior Mirage(6),for example, he incorporates a circulating water system to refer to how resources have been acquired, managed and used to drive human development since the Industrial Revolution. With upcycling as an artistic method, he brings commodity cycles into play.

Vikenti Komitski works with objects that he collects from urban spaces or in DIY stores. In Anthroposonic, he uses mostly objects from Freiburg. He arranges this often discarded mass products into site-specific objects and sculptures. Industrial products suchUntitled(4)and Untitled(11)he designates as site-specific objects that return to their functional context after the exhibition. In contrast to artists such as Marcel Duchamp or Arman, who included Ready Mades in their work permanently, for Komitski they have partly only temporary art status.In his sculptures, the artist combines natural things and industrially manufactured products. In accordance with a relational human-environment understanding, Komitski is concerned with blurring the distinction between natural and technical, organic and artificial, unique and mass-produced, and thus challenging our perception. In Untitled(3), for example, tree bark sticks to a ventilation pipe as if it had grown there. In the sculpture Superior Mirage(7), a brown disc made of yton lies on the floor. The tree rings make it look like a tromp l'oeil of a piece of tree trunk.InSuperior Mirage(7), the artist constructs a half-open structure from a massive stainless steel element from the Berlin underground and fine-mashed metal grids, which ambivalently associates shelter or cage. A gridded, square plastic plate from a crate a in a supermarket serves as the base. Other found objects are assembled on top of it: a bone, an eroded iron chunk and a piece of sanded tropical wood for aquariumes from Uganda hinting at the passage. The white plastic bag comes from the artist's favourite Thai restaurant. A palm tree symbolises foreign exoticism. Together with the tropical wood, the tropical plant stands for the globalized circulation of goods.Metal objects made of processed ironare omnipresent in the exhibition as ventilation pipes, barriers, grilles, manhole covers or fences. The extraction of raw iron from ores is one of the oldest cultural techniques. Iron became the most important material in the age of industrialisation. Steel bridges and skeleton constructed high-rise buildings celebrated technical progress. In Komitski's sculptures, however, the products made from ores also refer to mining, the excessive extractivism of natural resources that characterizes the Anthropocene. The theme of earth-changing, disrespectful overexploitation is present several times in Komitski's exhibition, so also through the marble slab inPermanent Stage Of Emergency (9).

The artist deliberately chooses objects with diverse grid structures. The window-like division of the metal railing in Untitled(4), for example, is reminiscent of structures of modernist paintingssuch as those of Piet Mondrian. The grid is the basic form of modernism. It embodies technical rationality, which remains the origine of mastery over nature to this day. With the brutalist, gridded elements of public infrastructure that Komitski places defamiliarized on the art gallery walls, he draws attention to disciplining and domestication that have dominated urban space since the modern era.Textsare an important element in Komitski's work and bring in discourse. The sentence The World is Flat & Square(8)printed on a global map refers to the measurement and inventory of the world, its species and resources that characterizes the Anthropocene. Two anagrams in a 3D printing technology can be read in two directions. Alluding to Francis Fukuyama's proclamation of the end of history, the black square reads After History, Before Time(9).The letters A.S.A.P.(as soon as possible) (9),digitally engraved into the marble slab, point to the capitalist economy, which must generate ever new desires at ever shorter intervals in order to increase growth.With his word creation Anthroposonic, the artist wants to evoke the feeling of an accelerated movement towards the future that characterizes the post-industrial society. In the video Incomplete Landscape (8), the artist outlines a scenario of after the Anthropocen in which only spherical sounds and dystopian landscapes are exist. A drone flies over a marble quarry left behind in Bulgaria to wind sounds from Mars. The drones images make visible the gridded pattern of the injured earth surface left by the extraction of stone blocks.The various perspectives of the drone give the landscape different apparitions. When the drone gets close, the eroded blocks look like the stepped seating of an Roman amphitheatre. From a bird's eye view, the mine resembles an archaeological site of a vanished civilization. The higher the drone climbs, the more abstract the landscape becomes. In the end, from far away the copper-red tones gives the landscape the appearance of a foreign planet. The title and video comment on the fundamental question of the Anthropocene: "Can humans thrive on a rapidly changing planet? Or is the future one of bare survival or even our own extinction?"13