Issue #43, 2013

Looking In From The Outside
Julia Schulze

The Anthropocene Project is organized by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin and continues its activities throughout the next year. The exhibition The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside was on view from April to July 2013 and accompanied by an exhibition catalogue published by Sternberg Press.

The first major exhibition of HKW’s Anthropocene Project is an exploration of the planetary paradigm initiated by the image of the whole earth.

There is no such thing as nature in the Anthropocene, a concept popularized by chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000. In the age of humankind man is a geological factor himself and the classical division between humanity and nature has become obselete. In the outmoststratum humanity and nature are one.

Berlin’s House of World Cultures (HKW) is since January 2013 embarking on a longterm research project exploring the implications this paradigm shift has for thought models of culture, aesthetics, politics and everyday life. The first major exhibition within the scope of the project entitled The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside is an ambitious archeology of influential transformations of values and normative structures that took place in the recent past. A coppice of text heavy displays, video screens and vitrines is trying to deconstruct all the facettes of the universal narrative that culminated in the so called Californian Ideology – contemporary art works are also presented by reduced to a mostly explanatory role illuminating the voids and interrupting the diegesis. However the exhibition as a research into the history of ideas manages to deliver a coherent picture of the justificatory fundament of contemporaryneoliberal information society and network economy. The curators Anselm Franke and Diedrich Diederichsen further have identified an equally universal icon that allows to situate the narraritve historically and locally in late 1960s California: the image of the whole earth as a blue planet signalling the rise of a planetary imagination. A photograph that they contrast with the other precursing global image of the postwar period – that of the atomic mushroom standing for human extinction and the Holocaust.

Taken by the astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission “Earthrise“ in 1968 the image of the whole earth depicts the planet as a closed and interconnected system without borders or frames. (See Russel Schweickarts (Apollo 9 astronaut) memoirs in: “No Frames, No Boundaries“, In Context: A quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture 3, 1983, pp. 16–18.) Created at the height of the cold war race for cosmic hegemony as an image of maximum military expansion the photography – so the curatorial thesis – is paradoxically stimulating a reverse yet no less universalist movement. Greeting western dualism farewell the idea of a rationally adminstered planet organized as a network or a process of information flows is promising the possibility of a balanced world free from (corrupt) politicians, bureaucrats or peace threatening institutions.

The holistic premise of the image of the whole earth transcending particularities and politics/history is functioning as a model for nonhierarchical and anti-institutional utopias of seemingly antagonist movements. The human gaze from outer space projected back on spaceship earth stimulated a shift of attention towards the self, its relation to society and the natural environment – just like Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey is an invitation towards a cosmic exploration of the ego and primate evolution. The Northern American New Communalists that in the 1960s had left the cities to explore alternative models for living in rural areas or post-apocalyptic scenarios of living in the desert organized their communities by the equation of self = world. Their nature romanticism assumes that a change in the personal environment and the consciousness would at the same time change the whole world. Similarly the idea of biospherics or a closed eco system whose balance is endangered by human/technological intervention and that must be protected became the main argument of the environmental movement calling for planetary, united action – a cybernetic principle that is still dominating the discourse. The idea of an equilibrium preserved by the means of harmonic self-regulation of interconnected patterns, waves and information loops was at the same time essential for the development of system theory, cybernetics and computer technology.


Access to Tools

The joint history of ideas of these distinct movements became physically apparent in their printed proximity in The Whole Earth Catalog that as an archive of the Californian counterculture is the main source and exhibit of the show at HKW. The biologist, entrepreneur, artist and publisher Brand had with his campaign “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole earth yet?“ (1966) fought for the publication of the planetary image himself and was using variations of the motive on each issue of the magazine. Operating as central hub and

communication media for the communalists the catalogue was additionally encouraging active participation of its readers who could suggest topics and submit reviews. On its pages the catalogue presented manifold useful tools for alternative living such as kits for building geodesic domes, early computers and books about cybernetics, psychology, esoterics and environmental protection. A mix held together by Buckminster Fuller’s “world game“ theory that imagined a computer controlled equal spreading of resources managed in a collaborative process by “comprehensive designers“ instead of ideologists.

Studying the catalogue’s pages we can witness a unique Californian conciliation between technology and the quest for social equality and eco politics of sustainability that later found its way into the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial dreams of a fair and self-regulating network economy. The New Communalists in contrast to their contemporaries of the New Left, the Black Panthers or the Liberation Movement did not see technology’s relation to the military-industrial complex and as such a threat to freedom. Further more their holistic view put them into a position to ignore class, race or gender differences – manifest in the absence of political quarrels of the times in the catalogue whose pages were reserved to white middle class men – even though the NASA image of the whole world presents the African continent at its core.

The HKW exhibition must be credited for pointing towards these blind spots that naturally are linked to today’s consumerist ideology where the self-optimization via magic tools that guarantee access to online networks controlled by powerful institutions/companies transcends production conditions and power relations. However a resumed critique of counterculture, its failures and omittances are not the exhibition’s task. On a more abstract level The Whole Earth: California and the Disappearance of the Outside is focusing on the border, the great frame encompassing the planetary image as a fun-

damental factor in the Anthropocene. Even in times of ecological catastrophe and its collateral consensus for global actions universal rhetorics, supranational institutions and their methods must be permanently questioned: Who is speaking and with which intention? Concerning the future Anthropocene Project presentations at HKW however we are expecting to find more than a solely Californian perspective.