The planet is changing, and the mild climate and abundant biodiversity of the last 11,700 years (the Holocene) is becoming something else, something strange, something unprecedented in human history. As geologists consider re-naming the current period, and as debates about the so-called Anthropocene reverberate through the sciences and humanities, the urgencies of planetary change have become the stuff of daily news.
The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva (TAAG) is an interdisciplinary research project that studies responses to socially caused global environmental change. Through interviews and fieldwork, TAAG researches and documents the diverse ways that the humans and nonhumans of one urban ecology, the city and region of Geneva, are responding to planetary change. A research focus on human actors and their networks (including citizens, activists, and artists, as well as scientific institutions, international organizations, and NGOs) establishes a context for encounters with nonhuman actants and agents (migrating climates, trees with ritual functions, receding glaciers, endangered species, mobile toxins).
With its rich networks of governance, research, finance, arts, and grassroots activism, Geneva is an exemplary terrain for launching such an investigation. What scientific, political, and artistic representations emerge in this context? In what ways do these representations render social impacts on the planet available to reflection and feelings? How are such knowledges performed in situated everyday practices? And how do such knowledges put into question longstanding assumptions about the human and the nonhuman?
TAAG combines field research, critical reflection, and artistic practices. This multimedia website includes an archive of video Interviews and local sites and objects, which can be accessed through the homepage map of the Geneva region. The interviews, conducted in 2017 and 2018, document the knowledge, experiences, practices, and views of scientists, artists, activists, and citizens from diverse professions. Exemplary local sites and objects are also investigated and documented. A Glossary explicates relevant key terms, local place names, species names, and groups or events of special interest; it also contains critical commentary and new representations of the so-called Anthropocene. The Glossary interfaces with the map and archive of interviews, sites, and objects, and is supported by a bibliography. Information about the interdisciplinary research methodology is provided in the notes on methods section, below. A history of the project and its institutional context and collaborations is also included below. All of these elements together form The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva.
TAAG is a research project of HEAD – Genève / Geneva School of Art and Design that is supported by an award from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The project is carried out by four researchers in art and philosophy at HEAD – Genève / Geneva School of Art and Design, supported by the TAAG advisory research group, a network of international scholars, researchers, and artists working in diverse disciplines and media. The TAAG research was conducted over two years (2017 and 2018), during which time the TAAG website was added to continuously and developed into the final online Atlas. An introductory video trailer made by TAAG researcher Janis Schroeder can be viewed on vimeo here.
notes on methods
“Anthropocene” is a new term now being used by scientists, scholars, artists, journalists, and increasingly by members of the general public. The term refers to a growing public awareness about the many ways in which human societies and social processes are altering the planet: these alterations include climate change, global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, the loss of local plant, animal, and insect life, ocean acidification, and forms of toxification.
The interdisciplinary research project TAAG documents and studies how people are responding to these changes, for example in the work that they do, and how they may be carrying their awareness into their everyday lives. TAAG interviews scientists, artists, activists, and citizens from diverse professions who are willing to share their awareness and concerns about planetary change. It also documents and studies interactions between humans and nonhuman beings impacted by the changing environment.
For this research, TAAG has borrowed and combined methods from social sciences, arts, and critical humanities. Video interviews, observation of sites, and photo-documentation are the main forms of local fieldwork archived and mapped on this website. Historical research findings, discussions of relevant literature, and critical reflection are provided in the glossary. The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva gathers and elaborates local responses and representations of planetary change and includes new representations produced during the research.
The aim of this research is to contribute to ongoing public understanding and evaluation of socially caused global environmental change. TAAG is realized in continuous dialogue with the work of other research communities and networks studying the implications of planetary change. The unique contribution of the TAAG project follows from its local focus; TAAG documents responses of people and nonhumans in one city and region, Geneva, over the two-year duration (2017 and 2018) of the project.
TAAG studies responses to socially caused global environmental change. These responses can include forms of representation, such as images, stories, or metaphors developed to make sense of planetary change. They can also include actions taken as a result of awareness about planetary change, such as a decision to garden organically, or to join a local group, neighborhood initiative, or political demonstration. In the case of human actors, these responses are gathered in the form of interviews that invite interviewees to share their knowledge and practices, as well as their personal views and feelings. Human-made artefacts, the groups that people organize, and public rituals may also contain relevant and illuminating representations of planetary change.
In order to select appropriate objects of research from among the many traces and representations of planetary change that can be found in Geneva, the following criteria were applied:
- an obvious connection to Geneva and environs
- a capacity to make visible complex or underlying processes of change
- a potential for stimulating reflection or debate beyond initial institutional, disciplinary, or practical contexts
- a potential for stimulating practical change
- quality as local indicator of global, socially caused environmental change
In addition to these criteria, particular attention is given to research objects that have been generative of public discussion or debate, are bearers of notable emotional intensities, or more generally exemplify shifts in awareness or everyday practices.
In the TAAG project, interviews with human actors follow established ethnographic and artistic interview practices and the ethical and professional standards of social sciences research. All interviews are voluntary. Following initial contact, the research project was discussed with each interviewee, who then signed an informed consent form before giving an interview. After the interview was edited, interviewees were given an opportunity to review the results; the inclusion of interviews on this website means that interviewees have signed a publication permission form. All parts of recorded interviews that were not selected for use in the editing process or that were rejected by interviewees during their review will have been permanently deleted by project completion on December 15, 2018, unless additional agreements were reached with an interviewee. The TAAG informed consent and publication permission forms used in this research can be viewed online here. In researching local collectives, artefacts, and rituals, TAAG draws on descriptive and analytical methods from actor-network theory, critical theories of representation, and critical theories of society. Explanation of some technical terms used in this paragraph and the one immediately below can be found in the Glossary of this website.
The responses and agencies of nonhuman actants are more difficult to identify and study with the means and methods of this research project. Scholarly debates about the Anthropocene across the sciences, arts, and humanities are strongly questioning the human species exceptionalism, or anthropocentrism, implicit in the logics and practices of modernity. While TAAG researchers recognize the need to think beyond human exceptionalism, they have found it challenging to realize this aim in practice. TAAG strives to acknowledge living nonhumans impacted by planetary change, wherever it has seemed possible to do so without presuming to speak for the nonhuman actants in question. The migration of local species and climates, the arrival of new species and climates to the Geneva region, or the decline of local species due to climate change, toxification, or other socially caused environmental disturbances, are considered appropriate TAAG research objects only when these have already been documented by scientific study or observed by local informants. For example, lichenologist Philippe Clerc, of the Geneva Botanical Gardens and Herbarium, gave TAAG an interview on the responsiveness of local and newly arriving lichens to climate change and socially caused air pollution. Generally, TAAG has focused on points of interaction between humans and nonhumans that bring aspects or consequences of planetary change into view. An example is the annual city ritual organized around the spring leafing of the official horse chestnut tree of Geneva. In order to limit and as far as possible avoid disturbances due to the research, documentation of nonhuman objects of study by TAAG researchers is limited to in situ digital photography, video, or audio recording. Glossary entries situate these representations of nonhuman species in the larger context of cross-disciplinary research and reflection on humans and nonhumans in the so-called Anthropocene.
In order to encourage good practices of full attribution without discouraging the free sharing of research findings and knowledge, all the contents of the TAAG website have been placed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). Under this license, the contents of the TAAG website can be freely shared so long as full attribution is given and any modifications are clearly identified as modifications; this license also specifies that none of the contents of the TAAG website may be used for commercial purposes.
history of the research project
TAAG developed out of many discussions, collaborations, seminars, and projects based in, or intersecting with, the CCC Research-based Master Programme at HEAD – Genève. Associate Professor Gene Ray has long integrated critical reflections on socially-caused planetary change into his writings and lectures on modernity, critical theory, art, and the sublime; since 2009, he has included a strong focus on these intersections in his critical studies graduate seminar in the CCC Programme. Numerous CCC graduate students, including Valerio Belloni, Lucas Cantori, Maria Adelaida Samper, and Kate Stevenson, initiated inspiring collectives and projects that channeled concern for planetary change into DIY skill-sharing groups, art collaborations, and a new urban permaculture garden at the Geneva artist residency and project space Utopiana. In 2010, Save as Draft, the collective of artist Aurélien Gamboni, another CCC alumnus, documented the simulation of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit that was organized at Paris Institute of Political Science, with the Programme of Experimentation in Arts and Politics (SPEAP). Save as Draft (Joffrey Becker, Aurélien Gamboni, Axel Meunier, Sandrine Teixido, Simon Ripoll-Hurier) later developed an investigation of representations of climate change by the means of interviews with artists, scientists, and diplomats; it was pursued in Geneva during a residency at Utopiana in 2013, and involved CCC graduate students in the realization of the collective project “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get”. Janis Schroeder’s artistic research and video essays about the impact of coal mining on urban environments in the Ruhr Basin as well as about the representation of urban ecologies in transformation have led to several articles, lectures, and art exhibitions; together with Cecile Boss, he coordinated CCC reading groups on key texts about socially caused global environmental changes. Kate Stevenson and Janis Schroeder organized a collective project with CCC students investigating traces of planetary changes in the herbaria of the Geneva Botanical Gardens. Out of these synergies, and with long-term support from the CCC Programme, the research project Emerging Cultures of Sustainability (ECoS) was developed over four years (2010-2014) to study grassroots responses to socially-caused planetary change, in the context of the larger cross-disciplinary academic discussions and debates about the so-called Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva builds on and reorients the research focus and research community formed over four years through the activities of ECoS.
In the context of ECoS, Gene Ray and Aurélien Gamboni, with help and support from CCC Coordinator Catherine Quéloz, organized three interdisciplinary seminars for the CCC Pre-Doctorate/PhD Seminar at HEAD – Genève: Reprojecting Ecologies (2012), with presentations by Claire Pentacost, Nils Norman, Liliane Schneiter, Gene Ray, and Save as Draft; Glossaries of Sustainability (2013), with presentations by Jenny Brown, Anna Grichting, Bolivian diplomat Angelica Navarro, Grégory Quenet, Eddie Yuen, and Save as Draft; and Welcome to the Anthropocene (2014), with presentations by Iain Boal, Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, and Philippe Rekacewicz. Additional separate seminars and consultations were conducted with Sacha Kagan, Paulo Tavares, and Chris Wainwright. These conferences and discussions prepared and seeded the critical, conceptual, and methodological ground for TAAG, and meetings to develop the new research project began in 2014 among a core group that would become the TAAG research group (Gene Ray, Aurélien Gamboni, Janis Schroeder, and Kate Stevenson). Meanwhile, some participants in the ECoS seminars joined the new project as the TAAG advisory research group (Iain Boal, Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, Anna Grichting, Sacha Kagan, Nils Norman, Catherine Quéloz, Grégory Quenet, Philippe Rekacewicz, Liliane Schneiter, Paulo Tavares, Chris Wainwright), and other advisors joined over the course of the project (Gabriella Calchi Novati, David Cross, Armin Linke, Oliver Ressler, Eddie Yuen).
The TAAG research team made contact with Geneva scientists, artists, diplomats, organizers, and grassroots activists, and began mapping their respective and overlapping fields of action. In 2014 a new partnership was forged between CCC at HEAD – Genève and Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges, University of the Arts London (UAL). In early 2015, CCC hosted a group of faculty and students from UAL (including Marsha Bradfield, David Cross, Neil Cummings, and Malcolm Quinn) for a conference convened to test TAAG’s developing research methods, through preliminary collection, archiving, and mapping on led walks through Geneva. In October 2015, UAL collaborators organized Shock City: Resilience and the Anthropocene, two days of panel discussions, workshops and a guided walk held at Chelsea College of Arts and environs in London. There, TAAG researchers presented a workshop on the Geneva project. In Geneva in December 2015, CCC hosted The Anthropogenic Image, a public discussion between artist Armin Linke and TAAG Project Director Gene Ray. TAAG thus grew out of and built on research processes that were long prepared and networked.
In 2016, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) approved TAAG’s application for support (Gene Ray, main applicant), enabling two years of funded research. In that time, more than 30 video interviews were conducted, and 58 glossary entries written; these were composed, along with additional texts and visual material, into the online Atlas found on this website. Two conferences were also organized in the context of the SNSF-supported TAAG project. A symposium in 2017 gathered TAAG advisory research group members (Iain Boal, David Cross, Sacha Kagan, Armin Linke, Nils Norman, Catherine Quéloz, and Liliane Schneiter) to preview the developing TAAG website, participate in four video interviews, and critically discuss the conceptual and self-reflexive positioning of the project; one day of presentations was open to the general public. In 2018, TAAG Project Director Gene Ray and TAAG advisory research group member Gabriella Calchi Novati partnered with the cross-disciplinary research community “Terror on Tour,” to co-organize a three-day international conference at HEAD – Genève: Anthroposcreams, Desert(ed) Destinations and Wilding Weather – Wish You Were Here focused on the cultural signs and politics of socially-caused planetary change. The 28 conference presenters included artists, philosophers, geographers, anthropologists, visual studies and humanities scholars, science and technology studies scholars, and performance studies scholars, who were introduced by graduate students of the CCC Research-based Master Programme at HEAD – Genève. TAAG researchers Aurélien Gamboni and Janis Schroeder presented the The Anthropocene Atlas of Geneva to the conference and research community. Please see Project Outputs for more details about the production of the two-year research project.
The TAAG researchers would like to thank the many people who generously shared their time, energy, thoughts, and feelings to this research project; without them, this Atlas would not be in the world.
Many thanks to those who agreed to be interviewed: Chiara Barberis, Martin Beniston, Mickaël Blanc, Antonin Calderon, Victorine Castex, Philippe Clerc, Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, Thomas Descombes, Christophe Dunand, Dominique Ernst, Montserrat Filella, Delia Fontaine, Thierry Gaudreau, Denise Gautier, Justin Ginnetti, Rafael “Tufawon” Gonzalez, Jacques Grinevald, Rachel Heaton, Pierre-André Magnin, Olivier de Marcellus, Michel Meyer, Abdallah Mokssit, Charlotte Nicoulaz, Pascal Peduzzi, Géraldine Pflieger, Anne-Cécile Reimann, Oliver Ressler, Philippe Roch, Philippe de Rougemont, Daniel de Roulet, Thibault Schneeberger, Denis Schneuwly, Arlène Shale, Nazhat Shameen Khan, Marie Velardi, Alain Yenni.
Warm thanks to the TAAG advisory research group: Iain Boal, Gabriella Calchi Novati, David Cross, Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, Anna Grichting, Sacha Kagan, Armin Linke, Nils Norman, Catherine Quéloz, Grégory Quenet, Philippe Rekacewicz, Oliver Ressler, Liliane Schneiter, Paulo Tavares, Eddie Yuen, and the late Chris Wainwright.
Warm thanks to graduate students and alumni of the CCC Research-based Master Programme at HEAD – Genève who have helped, inspired, and enlivened this research project in all its phases and activities: Camilla Paolino, Vinit Agarwal, Shima Asa, Alice Boudreau, Valerio Belloni, Lucas Cantori, Marisa Cornejo, Marguerite Davenport, Nadia Elamly, Boris Fernandez, Loana Gatti, Léa Genoud, Rebecca Glyn-Blanco, Max Hauri, Robert Hamlin Jackson, Julie Marmet, Roland Mbessa, Raphaëlle Mueller, Charles-Elie Payré, Maria Adelaida Samper, Felix Toro, Julie Tiffany Bellard, Sanja Vasic, Wu Dan.
Thanks to HEAD – Genève director Jean-Pierre Greff; dean of cultural development Julie Enckell-Julliard; dean of visual arts Charlotte Laubard; dean of studies Lysianne Léchot Hirt; dean of research Anne-Catherine Sutermeister; dean of communications and external development Sandra Mudronja; and CCC programme head Doreen Mende.
And thanks to Paul Antick, Çağla Aykaç, Anna Barseghian, Aimeric Baumann, Joffrey Becker, Denise Bertschi, Ursula Biemann, Cécile Boss, Marsha Bradfield, Giulia bruno, Neil Cummings, Marie Debat, Yann Chateigné, Chris Jordan, Victoria Sloan Jordan, Katrin Kettenacker, Bruno Latour, Armin Linke, Axel Meunier, Laura von Niederhäusern, Anna Papaeti, Malcolm Quinn, Anne-Julie Raccoursier, Simon Ripoll-Hurier, Julien Reinhard, Luc Schuiten, Frédéric Stordeur, Sandrine Teixido, Marie Velardi, Andrew Wilford.
Special thanks and heartfelt appreciation from the project director to Gabriella Calchi Novati, Camilla Paolino, Vinit Agarwal, and Iain Boal.
Thanks to institutional partners and collaborators: University of the Arts London; the Terror on Tour research community, University of Chichester (UK), and the Italian Cultural Institute Zurich.
And thanks to the Swiss National Science Foundation for its substantial support of the TAAG research project.
TAAG Research Group
Gene Ray, TAAG Project Director, HEAD – Genève, Geneva School of Art and Design
Aurélien Gamboni, artist and researcher
Janis Schroeder, artist, filmmaker and researcher
Kate Stevenson, artist, PhD candidate, University of the Arts London
TAAG Advisory Research Group
- Iain Boal, social historian of science, technics and the commons
- Gabriella Calchi Novati, critical theorist, performance studies scholar and psychoanalyst-in-training, CG Jung Institute Zurich
- David Cross, artist, University of the Arts London
- Hannah Entwisle Chapuisat, legal specialist on forced human displacement, PhD candidate, University of the Arts London
- Anna Grichting, architect and artist, Qatar University, Doha
- Sacha Kagan, sociologist and sustainability studies scholar, Leuphana University, Lüneburg
- Armin Linke, artist and filmmaker
- Nils Norman, artist
- Catherine Quéloz, HEAD – Genève
- Grégory Quenet, environmental humanities scholar, Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
- Philippe Rekacewicz, cartographer and journalist
- Oliver Ressler, artist and filmmaker
- Liliane Schneiter, HEAD – Genève
- Paulo Tavares, forensic architect, urbanist, and environmental studies scholar, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade de São Paulo (FAU–USP)
- Chris Wainwright, Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London*
- Eddie Yuen, extinction studies scholar, California College of Arts
* We sadly mark the loss of Chris Wainwright, who passed away in 2017.