Session 13

Friday, June 4

17:30–18:30 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 1

Chair: María José Alcaraz León

Katherine Melcher (University of Georgia, USA):

Aesthetics at the End of the World: The Arts of Sensing, Noticing, and Enjoying

Attempts to bridge sustainability and aesthetics within landscape architecture have focused on questions such as: how can aesthetics help us create landscapes that “provoke those who experience them to be more aware of how their actions affect the environment, and to care enough to make changes in their actions” (Meyer 31–32; see also Treib)? This formulation turns aesthetics into a means for an end, a tool to solve problems such as climate change. Although this aim is laudable, it reduces aesthetics to an instrumental purpose, and aesthetics loses its “purposiveness without a purpose” (Kant).

In this paper I argue that this instrumentalizing of aesthetics comes from enframing climate change as a technical problem. Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology,” Jean Luc Nancy’s After Fukushima, and Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World provide a rethinking of climate change that can help us expand the role of aesthetics in face of global environmental catastrophes. Reading Heidegger, Nancy, and Tsing together produces an interpretation of climate change as an entanglement of technological solutions and natural forces feeding into each other in a manner that cannot be solved by more means-end thinking.

An alternative way of thinking requires aesthetic exploration. Aesthetics is not just a means to making an environmental good palatable, like placing a cheese sauce on the spinach that we do not want to eat. It is living in the world in a manner that celebrates what threatens to be obliterated by technological thought. In this way, aesthetics is a site of resistance to the technological thinking that has spiraled into climate change. Aesthetics can be, to reinterpret Kant, what we find in our experiences that escapes scientific and moral reasoning. An aesthetic response to climate change would be to cultivate curiosity and “arts of noticing” (Tsing 255) in the “here and now and in the little things” (Heidegger 338) and to value the experiences and relations of life that are incommensurable (Nancy). It might sound nihilistic to proclaim, as Tsing does, that when faced with the end of the world, we should go for a walk. But perhaps, in these walks, in searching for delight and wonder in our immediate surroundings, we can counteract the technological mindset that has led us here.

Desiree Foerster (University of Chicago, USA):

Liminal Experience of Atmospheric Processes

Atmospheric processes and processes that relate ecological media like air with our bodies are hard to grasp. Yet they condition how we experience our being in the world. This paper proposes a shift in aesthetics that can account for the liminal processes in our surroundings and how they register in our subjective experience to discuss a new sensitivity for ecological relationships. I argue that this shift allows to become more sensitive to how we experience, instead of focusing on just what we feel. To achieve this, I focus on media environments that manipulate temperature, airflow, or oxygen levels in the air, in order to affect human subjects in a bodily as well as emotionally-affective manner. I argue that media environments that intensify climatic processes so that they can be sensed, potentially change what we consider to be important in our environment and what we include in our consideration of future actions. To explore this shift, I will take media environments as case studies that I have co-created with artists and scientists to flesh out the characteristics of such an aesthetics. Lastly, I believe the media environment presented here illustrates how a practical aesthetics and prototyping can help developing new forms of knowledge in the humanities.