Tracing the Forests through "Capital (Anthropocene Detonator Landscapes)"
Feral Atlas’s Anthropocene Detonator landscapes are experiments in visualizing the Anthropocene. They are a series of fantastical juxtapositions between the past and present, the near and far, the large and small, but with real historical references.
Capital shows the system that homogenizes landscape into one plain grid. It presents you an atlas from an axonometric view. This forms a perfect grid that provides a unique viewpoint that human eyes cannot perceive; it shows a perspective that only exists in our imaginations.
And that is the point. Capitalists have imagined the process of commodification in a similar way. On this grid, everything exists in parallel; for instance, in our landscapes, monoculture plantations sit side by side with cattle feeding lots, industrial nurseries, skyscrapers, and suburban houses. However, we simultaneously show the breaking of the ordered logic of the grid as residential blocks and slums merge into each other, factories release exhaust fumes and dump industrial waste, and the smoke from the burning nuclear power stations drifts away in the wind, covering up the skyscrapers and stacks of shipping containers nearby… So despite the apparent order of this drawing, we invite you to notice also the collapsing of the grid and its aftermaths: the scarred landscape after the forest fire; the crumbling buildings replaced by new investments; the algae blooming as a result of industrial dumping; traffic jams and street protests breaking the order of the urban system. Through the very form of the grid and illustrations of its collapse, we show how infrastructures host and spread feral effects.
The atlas features four Detonator landscapes; each takes a different form in order to show historical conjunctures that have led to anthropogenic environmental issues. Anthropocene Detonator landscapes seek to enact a creative dialogue between art and science, bringing artistic insight and care to the work of making visible key arguments and scientific concerns. While each element of the drawings is based on photographs and historical illustrations, the overall composition reflects the editorial team’s spatial imaginations. This composition is not concerned with chronological order or rendering a set of enclosed eras; rather, it seeks to showcase a set of events through which human infrastructures have—and continue to—shape the world.
Forests are all kinds. They grow, evolve, degrade, reemerge, sometimes with human’s involvements, sometimes without. But some forms of forests are invented by humans, putting local ecologies into distant investments. In doing so, we eliminate the participants in the forests to only one or a few species, transforming ecologies into commodities. This kind of human trace is radical and on territorial scales.
In the digital research publication Feral Atlas, we assembled many articles by field observers which pay close attention to undesigned effects of landscape modifications. These taken-for-granted infrastructure projects, while doing its work, quietly and violently changes the way ecologies evolve.
Science communicator and ecologist Marissa Weiss tells us one case of humans radically reshaped the forest as a result of globalisation. Wooden pallets in shipping have become the heart of the global shipping industry, especially after WWII. Made from cheap wood or off-cuts, they enable fast and efficient commercial transportation of goods around the world, and are seen as a sustainable material. However, during the large quantities of wooden pallets shipped globally, certain insects, hidden inside the timber, were stowaways that arrived at new places and became invasive to local ecologies. Namely the emerald ash borer, were accidentally introduced to the US from Asia and became highly destructive to local ecosystems. With no natural enemies and long flying range, they soon spread across more than 30 states in the US. Once a pest is established locally, it costs a great price, both financially and ecologically, to minimise its fatal damage to the surrounding flora and fauna.
Plantations, too, transformed our understanding of natural landscapes into geometrically divided shapes and forms for better control. But have we really had full control? Ecologist Ivette Perfecto shows us how industrial farming started a plant pandemic that went out of control several times in the world. During the late 1800s, an outbreak of coffee rust fungus occurred in Sri Lanka’s export crops of coffee, eventually forcing the British colonists to replace the whole plantation with tea. It is believed the reason behind this was the industrial style of monoculture. So instead of Asia, coffee plantations moved to the Americas, although it didn’t stop the disease to follow soon after. In Central America, coffee was once grown in conjunction with shade trees, in various forms across different regions. When coffee rust fungus first arrived as a minor phenomenon, it was believed that the solution was to reduce the shady plants and apply fungicides. It clearly didn’t work, and instead, the loss of biodiversity (in this case the natural enemies of the fungus) and the dense packed coffee plantations enable the fungus to travel much faster and easier by wind. Monoculture caused one of the most devastating outbreaks of coffee disease in Latin America, and ironically, the response to date is still shade reduction and fungicide.
Can the forest be haunting and beautiful at the same time? Photographer Helen Schmitz captured these forests that look like a dystopian world in an oddly beautiful way. The Kudzu plant, brought from East Asia as an exotic plant to the US was hugely admired amongst the Americans. It was later discovered to be a popular fodder for livestock, making it spread even more rapidly. Little did they know that kudzu grow much faster than other plant species and have the tendency of forming a large canopy wherever they go, essentially choking the surrounding forests to death. This exotic and beautiful plant, is now one of the worst invasive species in the world.
Pay attention to your surrounding forest, you’ll realise the human traces are everywhere. It’s increasingly difficult to tell whether our forests have become more familiar or unrecognisable.
The audio is recorded as part of Listening to the Forest, by Cameron Bray, as part of CSM’s Forest Talks series.
The above texts are excerpts from Historical and Fantastical Landscapes: The Making of Anthropocene Detonators, as part of Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene.
Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene is curated and edited by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou. Published by Stanford University Press.
Images: Capital (Anthropocene Detonator Landscapes). Image from Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene. Feifei Zhou
Feifei Zhou is a Chinese-born spatial and visual designer. She was a guest researcher at Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA), during which she co-edited the digital publication Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene (Stanford University Press, 2020) with anthropologists Anna Tsing, Jennifer Deger, and Alder Keleman Saxena. Her work explores spatial, cultural, and ecological impacts of the industrialised, built and natural environment. She currently teaches MA and BA Architecture at Central Saint Martins, London.