Critical Archives VI: We Can’t Breathe

In 2000, in the context of the International Biosphere Geosphere Project, Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry Paul Crutzen and Professor of Biology Eugene Stoermer coined the term “Anthropocene” to denote a new epoch in the geological time scale, where the devastating impact of human activity on the planet is measurable. While not yet approved by the International Union of Geological Sciences, their proposal has sparked a global debate leading to radically contradicting responses to the current climate and biospheric destabilization, ranging from geoengineering and “green” or “sustainable development”, to degrowth.

The most hegemonic of these narratives embodies the central idea that runs through the literature of the Anthropocene – that for this destabilization, humans are responsible, as a species. But this approach (which even oil giants have instrumentalized to advance the argument of individual responsibility and the concept of “carbon footprint”) obscures the real causes that have led us to this critical condition. Factors such as the consolidation of the use of the internal combustion engine in the 19th century, hydrocarbon extraction platforms, the atomic bomb and the decline in biodiversity are not linked to any supposedly intrinsic tendencies of the human species. They are linked, as anthropoecologist Andreas Malm notes, to the economic and political choices of an “infinitesimal fraction of the population of Homo Sapiens”: the owners of the means of production. Indeed, the exclusion of most of the human population from decision-making for the development and control of energy-related technologies, as well as the global division of labor which is a prerequisite for this exclusion, constitute, according to Malm, precisely the condition that attribute to climate catastrophe its real class-related causes instead of treating it like a natural or vaguely “man-made” phenomenon. This can be vividly illustrated by the fact that, at the moment, the richest 1% of the world’s inhabitants are responsible for 16% of greenhouse gas emissions, a quantity equal to that emitted by the poorest 66% of the planet’s inhabitants, i.e. 5.1 billion people.

The least privileged people on the planet suffer in the most disproportionate way the consequences of the ecocide carried out by this establishment. Farmers in the countries of the Global South who live in areas affected by floods, tornadoes, or desertification, and end up becoming climate refugees. Indigenous communities forcibly displaced while the forests in which they have lived for centuries are cleared and their land drained by multinational corporations, often aided by government authorities. Slum dwellers in developing countries who are flooded with piles of toxic e-waste or consume genetically modified foods. Women from low social strata for whom, according to UN data, the chances of becoming victims of sexual exploitation are multiplied, especially due to precarious circumstances, as a result of environmental disasters. Workers who work in conditions of extreme temperatures or who come into contact with pollutants causing a variety of diseases. But also citizens of a declining West who are unable to react in the face of brutal exploitation by an imposed status quo that prioritizes its financial gain at any price, while being completely indifferent to the lives of Others.

The Extraction of the Earth’s mineral reserves, the Exploitation of resources and people, the Extinction of species, and the displacement of society’s weaker links, are but manifestations of the normalized necropolitics that strategically ensures the protection of the Property of the few and the perpetuation of this order. This is where the exhibition’s We Can’t Breathe intersects with Eric Garner’s I Can’t Breathe, as ecological and social violence emanate from the same source: the hard, patriarchal, racist and individualistic core of the colonial Western European project. As for the animals, forests, oceans of this Earth, they are also experiencing the fatal consequences of the greed and indifference of capitalist man. In fact, none of the living beings on the planet can “breathe” anymore.

Critical Archives VI: We Can’t Breathe puts into dialogue visual works, photographic series, documentaries, and books that illuminate the dialectics between social and natural ecosystems, that give visibility to actions toward climate justice and alternative philosophies and practices of coexistence, or that tell stories of collective resistance against the straining of the Commons, thus contributing to the development of a contemporary political ecology. Through the selection of these works, MedPhoto also proposes perspectives that stand critically against the Cartesian view that treats Nature as a sphere distinct from Man and (his) Culture, and that consequently tends to represent it as an objectified landscape (a view historically intertwined with the colonial gaze). At the same time, it continues to outline artistic practices that highlight the inherent contradictions underlying the field of representation, while activating our possibilities to imagine a different and truly sustainable future for all.




MedPhoto 5

Artistic Direction: Pavlos Fysakis, Maria Maragkou

Curators: Dimitris Kechris, Pasqua Vorgia

Contemporary Art Museum of Crete, 19.01.2024 – 29.03.2024