Geologically speaking, some scientists believe we have moved past the Holocene epoch and into a new one known as the Anthropocene, an epoch defined by significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including climate change.
It’s not an official epoch. The international scientific bodies that govern such things have yet to officially endorse the idea, but it’s gained currency among prominent scientists, including at least one Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist.
This winter, Bates College Museum of Art joins the discussion with the exhibition “Anthropocenic: Art About the Natural World in the Human Era.” On view through March 23, it includes a strong contingent of Maine artists, as well as prominent artists from around the country and across the globe. Some have participated in prestigious international art exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale in Italy and Documenta, a contemporary art exhibition in Germany.
Dan Mills, director of the Bates Museum, has been visiting artists in their studios for several years, seeking out a mix of artists who make art about nature, the natural world and the impact of humankind on the environment in the 21st century. Mills selected artists who explore that theme through various artistic strategies, including painting and sculpture, video and graphics.
The exhibition hinges on the notion that the impact of humankind on the natural world is so deep already that it’s showing up in the geological record. Among the themes that surface in the exhibition are consumption and waste, extreme weather and sea-level rise, war and the atomic legacy, environmental degradation, the ethics of private ownership as it relates to land, and colonialism.
There are 17 artists or art collaboratives in the exhibition, and almost all of them are women.
“That did not happen with any deliberate intention,” Mills said. “The voices and the artists whose work felt most compelling were women.”
That includes the four Mainers in the group: Michel Droge, Adriane Herman, Jan Piribeck and Julie Poitras Santos.
Droge, of Portland, is showing abstract paintings that feel atmospheric and energetic, and they suggest toxic clouds or a growing, confusing mass of churning, mixed-up elements. Herman, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, is showing work from her ongoing project “Out of Sorts,” in which she makes use of recycled and recyclable materials to reinforce what she calls “the implications of excess.” One of her pieces consists of recycling material that was collected on campus, processed and returned to campus as a bale, where it is displayed as a reminder about the material cost of consumption.
Piribeck has spent the past decade exploring the intersection of art and science, using digital technology to explore artistic and scientific interpretations of the landscape. For the Bates show, she is documenting the impact of King Tides on Portland’s Back Cove.
Poitras Santos created the video “Chronicle of Mud” at the Sprague River intertidal zone and marshes at Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area in Phippsburg. Her video explores memory and carbon sequestration, which involves the storage of carbon in carbon reservoirs or carbon sinks. Wetlands function as a carbon sink. “Poetically speaking, we might consider this long-term storage to be a kind of memory embodied by the earth, or a kind of library,” she writes.
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; closed for the holidays through Tuesday, reopening 10 a.m. Wednesday; through March 23;
WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St., Lewiston
HOW MUCH: Free
INFO: bates.edu/museum or (207) 786-6158