In 2021, Runway Journal partnered with All Conference to present a series of Conversations from its network of artist-led, experimental and cross-disciplinary arts organisations around Australia. Over 2021 and 2022, organisations were invited to present a new piece on Runway’s Conversations platform.
The tenth Runway Journal x All Conference Conversation comes from SEVENTH Gallery, based on the unceded sovereign land and waters of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation.
SEVENTH Gallery asked writer Christy Tan, who is currently taking part in the SEVENTH Emerging Writers Program, to respond to Nicholas Burridge’s recent exhibition Anthropic Rocks: a new stage in the rock cycle (SEVENTH Gallery, 10 Feb – 4 March 2022).
The human and non-human
The historical epoch that Burridge’s exhibition is framed within is commonly identified as the Anthropocene. The word ‘Anthropocene’ is derived from the Ancient Greek ‘anthropos’, meaning ‘human’, and ‘cene’, meaning ‘new’. This recently coined Western concept signifies the era of a ‘new human’ - one that has impacted the Earth more than any previous historical age, inciting a distinct geological change that will become visible in the rock strata. Yet to perceive the status of the ‘new human’ as the primary governing force on Earth naturalises the colonial and capitalist logics of extraction, appropriation and (dis)possession. It is precisely this Cartesian impulse to create subject-object binaries such as human and non-human, nature and culture, which privileges the ‘new human’ as the central source of hegemony, reinforcing Eurocentric systems of knowledge and violence. In centering the 'new human’ and its actions, the anthropocentric narrative tends to conceal the powerful minority hoarding the majority of the world’s wealth, causing economic disparities, uneven global distribution of resources and wide-scale environmental destruction.
In the act of melting basalt, perhaps Burridge is suggesting the destruction of this logic from within. From sedimentary, igneous to metamorphic, he introduces us to ‘anthropic rocks’—or more simply put, human-made rocks. This practice delineates a turn from Earthly to human forces, culminating in an ‘uncanny recreation of nature’ . At what point does Burridge’s transformation of basalt render it unnatural or anthropic? Through the anthropocentric lens, the non-human is relegated to the less-than-human. The non-human is treated as a means to further elevate and magnify the human, rather than an unknowable end in themselves that resists our knowing. In accepting the notion of the anthropocene, Burridge questions what histories will be inherited by future generations, leaving us to consider how anthropocentric perspectives offer a limited collective vision of the human and non-human.
"If we recognise that the non-human does not end where the human begins, we can start to shift our attention towards seeing the non-human not as something to act upon, but in relation to and alongside."
When the basalt expands at 1150–1250 degrees Celsius, it transforms into obsidian. Obsidian has a long history in religious ‘scrying’ rituals. Scrying, which comes from the Old English ‘descry’, means to see images which reveal the past or forebode the future. Ancient seers would gaze into the abyss of obsidian’s glassy surface, until its shining darkness reflected revelatory visions which lay dormant in its dense facade. Perhaps they believed that the mysteries of the future were hidden away in the secrets of the past. As you look deeper into its black void, the glassy surface facilitates an encounter. You are caught in the mist of its prophecy — something merging the human and the non-human flickers between past and future. Friction gathers at the point from which your reflection stares back at you in the present.
Through the looking glass of the obsidian, we can access alternative modes of perception. If we recognise that the non-human does not end where the human begins, we can start to shift our attention towards seeing the non-human not as something to act upon, but in relation to and alongside. When I look at the row of seven 100X100X100mm basalt cubes, I can’t help but feel as if they are engaging in some kind of private, intimate conversation I will never understand. Although I do not have the language to comprehend them in their entirety, rocks are the Earth’s primordial archives, measuring and marking out our (hi)stories with their own. What futurities would Burridge’s obsidian hold if we lived within more reciprocal ecologies that acknowledged the interrelationality and plurality of the non-human and human?
SEVENTH Gallery is an artist-run initiative supported by a voluntary, rotating Board of curators, writers, and people who labour in the arts, and creatives from other industries such as law. SEVENTH actively supports these diverse vocations across their programs and exhibitions, continuing to champion emerging voices of experimental and critical art. We make decisions collectively and see ourselves as a community, who will continue to work together for the rest of our careers, across different projects and spaces.
Christy Tan lives and writes on Wurundjeri land.
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