about

Peter Beck is an interdisciplinary artist working and teaching in Milwaukee Wisconsin.
SAIC MFA 2016

(MFA thesis THERE IS NO NATURE, excerpt)

Global warming has permanently altered our home; and we are responsible. As residents (crafters?) of the Anthropocene, it is no longer possible to perceive the earth as an assemblage of passive, nonhuman stuff that backgrounds human culture. Our current geological epoch arrived just as humans achieved force of nature status; and lucky us, it comes with a view called ecological awareness. But the view is stranger than one might expect. Objects are active with material vibrancy and the harder we look for nature the harder it is to find.

The romantic nature writing of Emerson, Whitman, John Muir and Leopold, looked ahead to the 20th Century and imagined the impending acceleration and scope of human intervention on the natural landscape. Their portrayal of the natural world still captivates contemporary readers; calling them out of the city and into the dirt. Romantic nature writing relies on the belief that close observation and direct involvement with nature curbs its instrumentalization and the destruction of habitat. Despite the call for connection and re-enchantment, nature is removed from the reader. It is a distant, wild mystery animated by forces that we can observe but never fully comprehend.

Contemporary authors like Timothy Morton, Jane Bennett, and Slavov Zizek (even contemporary readings of Thoreau) look back on the 20th Century and propose that a conceptual framework which separates humans and nature has brought us speedily into the Anthropocene. Nature is no longer a thing to return to. Rather, we never left. To return implies separation that overlooks the vast human embeddedness in global, environmental systems. Land clearing, urban development, agriculture, the harvest of natural resources, and selective breeding make for a very blurry human / nature boundary. The Anthropocene is a signpost on the geologic time scale marking the Earth as a human planet.

As ecology becomes a new moral compass to guide politics and social action it is important to look critically at how the concept of nature and the objects of nature shape discourse. The globalized entanglement of all contributing players makes global warming polemical at best, and paralyzing for most. Perhaps what is necessary to cut across the complexity is a fundamentally different philosophical framework with which to understand our place in the natural world. Maybe dismantling the notion of nature is the often overlooked first step towards curbing ecologically destructive human activity by opening up cracks in archaic notions of utility and dominion.