Entering a new phase of my creative practice, my intention for the 2-week retreat at Coppermoss is to create drawings that take up the aesthetics and arrangements of traditional vanitas paintings. Related to still lifes, vanitas caution the ephemerality of worldly pleasures and brevity of human life.
The subject matter for this project considers apathy as a response to the ontogenesis and certitude of global cataclysmic or apocalyptic events. Apathy can be a physical and psychological response to grief, or a state of indifference. In turn, an apathetic response to climate change and global environmental futures can be understood as grieving the loss of nature and anthropocentric ideologies, fantasies of technological salvation, escapist space exploration and nostalgia for perceived simpler times.
Traditional vanitas paintings visually expressed the richness of invention and discovery of the Dutch Republic during the Golden Age (mid-sixteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries). With the rise of global trade, scientific discovery and market economies, as well as access to newly discovered flora and fauna, artists were influenced by and occupied with the integration of science into political, social and cultural realms. In response, vanitas, meaning futility or worthlessness, became symbolic works expounding the transience of life and certainty of death, and cautioning against the idolization of modern progress.
By taking up the visual aesthetic and themes of vanitas, this project aims to create narrative images to counter apathetic responses to the decaying natural world and remind that while human life can be considered transient, our legacies offer permanence.
Using drawing media including graphite, colour pencil and watercolour, I intend to create one narrative, durational drawing per week based on real and imagined natural disasters, fantastical technological solutions, and their impact on embodied experience. Reference materials will include science-fiction and science-fact, the collection of imagery from a wide variety of sources, as well as foraging for natural debris in the proximity of the cottage. The location of the cottage lends itself to themes of isolation, off-grid living and post-apocalyptic escapist fantasies, all of which are relevant avenues of inquiry in relation to this project.
My research so far has been influenced by Native American author, theologian and activist Vine Deloria Jr.’s investigations of science and religiosity; scholar and critical theorist Donna J. Haraway’s concepts of post- humanism and human-animal relations; and art historian and cultural critic T.J. Demos’ discussions of ecology and globalization. More recently, I have encountered further texts that are expanded ways of thinking through this subject, including Lauren Berlant‘s exploration of the precariat, Thomas Homer-Dixon‘s examination of crisis and systematic collapse of social, economic and political structures, Zadie Smith’s eloquent solastalgic text “Elegy for a Country’s Seasons” and the pithy speculations of Chuck Klosterman as he questions what it means to be wrong. I am equally influenced by popular culture and media, allowing it to infiltrate my imagery and propel the narrative qualities of my drawing practice.
In the months leading up to the retreat, I intend to continue my research, collect imagery, and generate sketches that will later appear in the final drawings.